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Türe RANGSTRÖM (1884-1947)
Symphonies - No. 1 in C sharp minor, 'August Strindberg in memoriam'; No. 2 in D minor, 'Mitt land'; No. 3 in D flat, 'Song under the stars'; No. 4 in E flat, 'Invocatio'. Dithyramb. Spring Hymn. Intermezzo drammatico.
Norköping Symphony Orchestra/Michail Jurowski.
CPO 999 748-2 [DDD] [170'34]
 £15.99  Amazon UK    £15.99  Amazon USA $26.57

Rangström during his day was considered to belong to the young generation of Swedish composers of around 1910 who tried to introduce modernism into their music, and something of this spirit of discovery lies within these pieces. His music comes as something of a revelation: powerful, sweeping and ecstatic are all words that could be used to describe it. Sibelius considered Rangström 'head and shoulders above any other Swedish composer' and, on the evidence of this CPO set, one can see why.

All of the three discs of this set have been available singly. The advocacy of the Norköping Symphony Orchestra under Jurowski is no mean bonus. They play with tremendous conviction.

CPO chose to preface the First Symphony with Dithyramb of 1909, a hyper-romantic 'work of protest' which is bold, daring and challenging in its gestures. Rangström paints his canvas with long brush strokes and an unerring sense of confidence. The First Symphony of five years later continues in the same vein. It is full of big contrasts, from late-Romantic splurge to the most transparent delicacy, taking in a manic scherzo (subtitled Trollruna) on the way. The much later Spring Hymn (1942) rounds off the first disc. Also dedicated to Strindberg, it comes as peaceful balm after the heroic last movement of the symphony.

The patriotic Second Symphony opens very much like a Scandinavian Vaughan Williams. The Norköping orchestra captures the drama of the first movement well, and throughout one is astounded at the many felicitous touches of scoring. The coupling for this disc is the Intermezzo drammatico, and Orientally influenced piece with a Notturno movement of magically veiled half-lights.

Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 fit well onto the final disc. The Fourth (whose organ part, played here by Mark Fahlsjö, adds a real sense of grandeur) is a most impressive piece. The shadowy, macabre slow waltz of the Intermezzo (marked sotto voce) is just one example of Rangström's fertile invention. The slow movement is touching without ever being cloying.

I have deliberately given the Third Symphony the last word in this review. It is the only of Rangström's symphonies in one movement, and this seems to free his imagination to heights only hinted at in the other pieces in this set. The atmosphere is fantastical and expressionistic, both in harmonic direction and in instrumentation. At times explosive, sometimes just plain manic, always striving towards a Wagnerian scale of intent, its content belies its 22-minute duration and leaves the most powerful of impressions. A stunning piece.

Throughout the recording is crystal clear. The playing is exemplary. For anyone remotely inquisitive about this truly individual Scandinavian symphonist, this set is an essential purchase.


Colin Clarke



and Peter Grahame Woolf adds

Ture RANGSTRÖM (1884-1947) was largely self-taught and was thought alarmingly modern in conservative Sweden when his youthful Dithyramb, 'a work of protest' which reacted against the prevailing 'idylls and sentimentality of Swedish tones', was premiered in 1910. He was a devotee of Strindberg (to whom he played it) and became active a perceptive and outspoken music critic, defending the new. It is an arresting, full-blooded piece which encourages further exploration. The 1st Symphony, to the memory of Strindberg, was given in 1915 and taken up by Stenhammar. Beginning with an allegro enthusiastico it was strikingly original for its time, with a funeral hymn second, a whirling scherzo and a war march finale. The first of these three CDs ends with a return to his idol Strindberg, the 1942 Spring Hymn a seascape composed to commemorate his death 30 years before.

Rangstrom was a 'literary composer', stimulated often by poetry. The second symphony (1919) My country in 3 movements is expansive with singing melodic lines, 'tension and gentle forest mysticism'. Intermezzo drammatico - from an oriental fairy play is 'a Swedish Scheherezade in miniature' five picture postcards movements conceived s illustrations to an imaginary play.

The third CD has Symphonies No. 3 (1929) Song under the stars 'strangely dreamy', in Db major (!) and No. 4 (1936) Invocatio - 5 symphonic improvisations for orchestra and organ. The first is a single movement, suggesting a night-time sea voyage, its main motif based on one of Rangstrom's songs Prayer to the night. The last work in this boxed set only acquired the title symphony at a performance in 1943 - (there is a question whether to drop the 4th of its five movements, all of which are given here). It was built gradually from the initial source of a passacaglia & toccata for organ, and is a substantial addition to the repertoire of orchestral music featuring the organ.

This is not earth-shaking music, but it is more original than obviously derivative, and is well worth exploring for those interested in the vast range of Scandinavian music which rarely gets a hearing in UK. The performances and recording seem excellently prepared and these 1995 CDs, now available at a reduced price, can be recommended.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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