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Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-1996)
The Key Masterpieces
CD 1
To the Seagulls and the Cormorants, Op. 174, No. 6 (1987) [7:38]
Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen/Giordano Bellincampi
Chamber Concerto No. 2, Op. 20 (1940) [22:03]
Mikkel Futtrup, violin; Eva Ostergaard, flute
Danish Radio Sinfonietta/Hannu Koivula
Piano Trio, Op. 129, Nuigen (1976) [16:25]
Trio Ondine
Sinfonia I, Op. 73A (1957) [11:23]
Danish Radio Sinfonietta/Hannu Koivula
Cello Sonata, Op. 101 (1969) [15:24]
Morten Zeuthen, cello
CD 2
String Quartet No. 4, Op. 63 (1987) [24:34]
Kontra Quartet
Requiem for Nietzsche (1964) [51:44] (section listing at end of review)
Helge Rønning (tenor); Johan Reuter (baritone)
Danish National Choir; Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Michael Schønwandt
rec. Denmark, 1992-2004. DDD
DACAPO PERSPECTIVES 8.226101-02 [72:06 + 76:25] 


Experience Classicsonline

This is the first in what looks to be a new series from Dacapo. Their Perspectives series evidently sets out to give you reference sets of recordings of music by Danish composers; all presented in a book-style volume. Notes and texts are framed by card pockets holding the 2 CDs. It was a bold step and typical of Dacapo to mop up a large part of the second CD with the Nietzsche Requiem - masterpiece though it undoubtedly is. If one were looking to gripe one might complain about the lack of a symphony though Dacapo, in fairness, do not have the symphonies in their recording list; that's very much for Bis and Owain Arwel Hughes with the Aarhus Byorkester. We do instead hear the Sinfonia I which is part of a series which stands apart from the 13 Arabic-numbered symphonies. The Dacapo cross-section instead cuts through the music for small orchestra, concertos, the chamber music, a stern work for solo cello and a grand secular requiem. The centre-pages of the set highlight the recordings from which these works have been extracted so it also serves as a sampler as well as a single compact representation for collectors who want Holmboe represented on their shelves – as they should. The notes though good are too short. They are by Jens Cornelius. It is to the credit of Dacapo that they have avoided the approach that takes a movement here and an episode there. These two CDs contain only complete works. A model to the rest.

The 1987 Seagulls and Cormorants Prelude is full of breezy distinctive tonal life. This contrasts with the sturdy and sometimes quasi-Bachian life that imbues the 1940 Chamber Concerto No. 2. Its passion sloughs off any neo-classical aridity. The Holmboe gifts of textural variety and tonal delight are fully engaged and with a twinkle in the eye. I had never heard the Nuigen Trio before. It's a late Piano Trio with more terseness of expression and dissonance than I had been accustomed to from Holmboe. The composer admits melody and tenderness in the mercurial finale which in this case lays bare the beauty of the performance and of the recording. The single movement 1957 Sinfonia I is one of four such works - subtle, reserved and yet imbued with a Barber-like fervour. The 1969 Sonata for Solo Cello deserves to be in the same company as the Kodaly Sonata and the Bax Rhapsodic Ballad - by the way, someone needs to issue Rohan de Saram's Pearl recording of the Bax; also whatever has happened to the Starker recording of the Kodaly once issued on a Saga LP alongside the Duo. In three movements, the Holmboe Sonata seethes with invention and emotive expression. The work’s hoarse and shredded whispering, its sense of abnegation and the florid eloquence of the finale are all wonderfully engaging. The String Quartet No. 4, one of twenty he wrote between the late 1940s and the 1980s, is earnest and serious. It is a strong if not always tender piece although the finale at times dances with some delicacy. Hearing the Requiem again after getting on for eight years I was struck afresh by its emotional eloquence achieved through the abstemious use of the massive forces available - not that there are no moments of massive effect and drama. The seriousness of the piece still leaves room for the gentle and the fragile. The end of this epic setting of Thorkild Bjørnvig's philosophical and poetic reflections on the inscape journey of Friedrich Nietzsche culminates in an almost Delian dazzle though undramatically shone. The words for the Requiem for Nietzsche - and there are many of them for a work lasting 52 minutes - are printed in the sung Danish and in German and English translation, side by side. A shame that the track numbers are not given in the text section rather than having to flick back and forward through the booklet.

This is an ambitious and wonderfully engaging set. It establishes itself as a natural choice for those wanting to gain a good appreciation of Holmboe. However do try to track down the symphonies as well; especially Nos. 4-7.

Rob Barnett

Requiem for Nietzsche (1964)
Part One: Prelude in the Desert - Basel - 12:31
Part Two: The Friends - Sils Maria - The Third Temptation - 11:21
Part Three: The Moment - Gondola Song - Jena - 12:43
Part Four: Ecce Homo - Weimar - 09:31
Part Five: The Wild Hunt - 05:45



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