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Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-1996)
Concerto No. 8 Sinfonia Concertante Op. 38 M.148 (1945) [19.07]
Concerto No. 10 Træ Messing og Tarm (Wood, Brass and Gut) Op. 40 M.150 (1945-46) [17.46]
Concerto Giocondo e Severo Op. 132 M.288 (1977) [10.40]
Den Galsindede Tyrk (The Ill-Tempered Turk) ballet suite Op. 32b M.242 (1944-45) [19.28]
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes
Recorded. Aalborghallen, Aalborg, Denmark, May 1998 (Opp. 32b, 132), June 1999 (Opp. 38, 40)
BIS-CD-917 [68.16]

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Comparative review:

Though recorded between 1998 and 1999 Bis was quite slow to release this trio of Concertos for Orchestra, an added adornment to their remarkable Holmboe series. It’s true that Dacapo released a set of discs dedicated to the concertos (all thirteen) but the standards of musicianship, scholarship and commitment evinced in the Bis series has been so high that their entrant is no less deserving of accolade and the most admiring investigation.

Formally cohesive and impressive, the Eighth Concerto, cast in two movements, dates, as with the Tenth, from the immediate post-War years. Rhythmic impulse is constant, lyricism is unceasing and Hughes pays powerful attention to the dynamic rise and fall of the music, and in particular to the expressive diminuendi that create such tension in the opening movement. The second, a series of variations, fits Holmboe’s schema perfectly – an inexorable, seamless unfolding of themes and patterns laced with brass outbursts of trenchant lyricism, including pockets of ceremonial brass, stately as a castle top, and some smart, surging melodic writing to end.

The Tenth is separately tracked in nine sections and is written with all Holmboe’s astute aplomb. Noteworthy are the strong and sinewy writing of the Allegro molto section and the elegant arabesques for the winds in the succeeding Lento. The Adagio is string-textured and the close of the Concerto is strong on ebullience and joyfulness. Of the two it’s the Eighth that makes the more immediate impression, perhaps in part because the slightly later work cleaves to a more disparate and internally contrastive viewpoint, though there’s no doubting its immediacy of expression or the mastery of colour and orchestration.

Den Galsindede Tyrk (The Ill-Tempered Turk) is a ballet suite written in the last year of the Second World War but which, so far, is yet to be staged. There’s some combustible music along the way in the Dance of the Executioner, much elegance in the Dance of the Two Spirits and some fine shimmering writing, with evocative naturistic writing in Dance of the Trees. There’s also some folkloric writing and some swirling, skirling strings along the way – but nothing here is generic and nothing sounds at all forced or piquant. As with all Holmboe’s lighter music it sounds inevitably right – and musically consonant. And you’ll also perhaps pick up hints to come that resurface in his symphonic music – especially the Seventh Symphony.

The Concerto Giocondo e Severo is a much later work, written in 1977. Strong, lucid and written with full mastery, the felicities of his orchestration are audible even when the heavy brass make their impression. Textures are kept aerated and free, proportions are kept within natural emotive and stylistic bounds; there are certainly moments when one is reminded of the Tenth in his use of contrastive devices, in the quick conjunction; in its quick compactness – try the felicitous wind writing the familiar percussion tattoos, the use of low brass and the sense of concentrated triumph at the end.

With characteristically fine notes and equally warm and resonant recording this is another welcome addition to the Bis-Holmboe roster. Try the symphonies first but don’t neglect this body of work.

Jonathan Woolf

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