VAGN HOLMBOE (1909-96)
Preludes for Sinfonietta:-
No. 10 To the Unsettled Weather (1991)
No. 5 To a Living Stone (1987)
No. 8 To the Victoria Embankment (1990)
No. 3 To a Maple Tree (1986)No. 2 To a Dolphin (1986)
rec 7-11 Sept 1998, Lyngby Park Kapel
DA CAPO 8.224123
The ten Sinfoniettas are late works for small ensemble. They are dedicated
to one of the composer's staunchest critical supporters, Robert Layton, the
critic who has done more than anyone else in the British speaking musical
press to introduce Scandinavian 20th century music. Mr Layton's always
illuminating writing has been an enlivening presence since it began in the
The sinfoniettas were completed between 1986 and 1991. In total they play
for circa ninety minutes. This is the first of two volumes to encompass the
complete series from Da Capo. The music is pointillistic - a sequence of
aquarelles of the outdoors.
In Unsettled Weathers the tonality is at first indeterminate but soon
develops with a feeling imbued from Nielsen's flute concerto and with some
strange intrusions from Susato's Danserye. Nielsen's influence can
also be heard in Living Stone which often flits into Japanese delicacy
as if suggestive of one of Hovhaness's Moss Gardens. The percussion,
on the other hand, darts and stamps in a most indelicate rhythmically vigorous
way. Notable is the noble peroration which is followed by an understated,
almost apologetic, quiet passage from the wind and strings. The 'Medieval'
drum-dance runs through all these pieces and links with the courtly pavanes
and estampes of Hovhaness e.g. in the Majnun and Saint Vartan
A great emotional statement for solo cello dominates Victoria Embankment
with the vibraphone throbbing discreetly beneath the passion of Hege
Waldeland's cello. Staggeringly magical are the spoken words 'Yes it is midnight
over London' delivered by the cellist in hushed tones. The final section
is far more animated - juicy neo-classicism.
Maple Tree is chirpy, clamorous, flimsy, rugged, singing, shifting,
busy. One wonders to what extent Holmboe may have interacted with his Swedish
contemporary John Fernstrom whose Oriental background also pervades some
of his music. The impression of delicate strength and wingbeats is also strong
in Dolphin as are the Hovhaness-like elements mentioned previously.
The seraphically singing strings parallel the divisi violins in
Hovhaness's Fra Angelico overture and the Tippett Corelli
The Athelas Ensemble has eleven members (one each flute, oboe, clarinet,
violin, viola, cello, bass) with others drawn from a pool of six guest musicians.
My impression is that the music is handled with great sensitivity and ruggedness
- a tribute to the conductor and to each and every instrumentalist. Lively,
uncramped, close recording with good notes but short playing time.
Another positive step towards making Holmboe's musical legacy known. The
pulse continues untired and vivid.