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Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-1996)
Concerto No. 1 for piano and orchestra, Op.17 (1939) (I. Molto moderato [18'04]; II. Molto allegro [6'52])
Concerto No. 3 for clarinet and orchestra, Op.21 (1940) (I. Allegro non troppo [11'00]; II. Allegro giocoso [5'41])
Concerto No. 7 for oboe and orchestra, Op.37 (1944-45) (I. Molto moderato - Allegro non troppo [12'31]; II. Allegretto con moto [5'13]
Beatus Parvo for choir and orchestra, Op.117 (1973) text: Psalm 32) [I. Beati quorum [4'25]; II. Quoniam tacui [3'25]; III. Delictum meum [4'54]; IV. Multa flagella [4'31]
Gordon Hunt, oboe
Martin Fröst, clarinet
Noriko Ogawa, piano
Danish National Opera Choir
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes
rec. Jan 1998 (3; Beatus); May-June 1999 (7); May 2002 (1). Aalborghallen, Aalborg, Denmark. DDD
BIS-CD-1176 [78:06]

Has any company done as much as Bis for the distinctive tonal music of Holmboe? Perhaps Da Capo? In any event the symphonies stand at the heart of any Holmboe collection and it was Bis who recorded them as an intégrale and issued them as a boxed set on BIS-CD-843/46 (Rosenberg next?). Bis have also added numerous CDs of the concertos and other orchestral and choral pieces.

The Swedish company have already issued one CD of some of the sequence of numbered concertos. That was BIS-CD-917 which included Concertos 8 Sinfonia Concertante (1945), 10 Wood, Brass and Gut (1945-46); Concerto Giocondo e Severo (1977) and Den Galsindede Tyrk (The Ill-Tempered Turk) (1944-45).

Another Holmboe disc from Bis is always welcome. Here we have three works from the insular mid-1940s and one from the international years of the 1970s. The three chamber concertos have in common that they do not feature solo parts - unlike the other ten. There are thirteen of these Holmboe concertos if you include the 1977 Concerto Giocondo e Severo. These concertos were initially dubbed Chamber Concertos but the composer retitled them Concerto. They have been recorded complete on Da Capo using what sounds to be a smaller ensemble than is used by Bis.

The Piano Concerto is in two movements as are all three concertos on this disc. the first movement of which is cleanly orchestrated, elegant and even softly romantic. The second owes something to Eastern European vigour, strongly rhythmic and probably indebted to the Balkan connection via Holmboe's Rumanian pianist wife, Meta. It was Meta who gave the premiere in 1941 in Copenhagen with an orchestra conducted by Launy Grøndahl. That second movement is touched via the wand of Bartók with the Hungarian friss and is in the composerís most animated vein. The Clarinet Concerto is often wild and woolly. Its range of expression looks back to the Nielsen concerto. Knud Ketting, in his excellent liner-note, mentions that Aage Oxenvad, for whom Nielsen wrote his own concerto, was the only clarinettist in Denmark who might have been able to do the work some justice. Surprisingly this concerto has never been performed in live concert. The Piano Concerto has many memorable moments but the most joyful and impressive work of the three is the Oboe Concerto. Especially in the first movement the oboe's melodic line describes an oriental curve reminiscent of Hovhaness punctuated with the thudding off-beat impacts from Holmboe's mid-period symphonies. The oboe is most beautifully played by Gordon Hunt. It is no wonder that this concerto has carried Holmboe's name widely: it is intriguing and engaging, full of melodic interest. It would pair well with that other wonder of twentieth century oboe concertos, the Malcolm Arnold.

The Beatus Parvo stands apart from the three concertos not only in genre but also in time. It was written during the early 1970s to a commission from an amateur choir. The style is of a piece with the 1940s concertos - lyrically accessible and very singable. There are four movements: calmly rounded and at peace; troubled and dramatically punched out with the smilingly coaxing clarinet underpinning the Quoniam tacui; ambiguously still; and finally the surgingly confident, bell-swung Multa flagella which, if lacking the final ecstatic drive of Rosenberg's Fourth and Fifth symphonies, is extremely attractive.

Full words for Beatus Parvo are given in the sung Latin and in English translation.

I hope Bis have noticed that we still need a complete recording of Holmboe's choral cycle Liber Canticorum (1951-52).

A well-packed disc with a nice balance struck between the concertos and a rarely encountered choral-orchestral work.

Rob Barnett

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