Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-1996)
Four Symphonic Metamorphoses
Epitaph (1954)
Monolith (1960)
Epilog (1962)
Tempo Variabile (1972)
Aalborg SO/Owain Arwel Hughes
rec May, Dec 1996, Aalborg, DDD
BIS-CD-852 [75.22]

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Do BIS and Dacapo talk to each other? With only one falter they have produced complementary entries. It is not that they are the only record company players in the field but they are certainly the most active so far as Holmboe is concerned. Between them they have recorded great swathes of Holmboe. The string quartets and the thirteen numbered concertos have been the province of Dacapo. BIS have recorded the complete symphonies and with many of the other orchestral works 'picked off' along the way. The four Symphonic Metamorphoses are a natural, if tough textured, partner to the symphonies.

While few if any of the symphonies are hard going these metamorphoses require persistence and even when as well performed and recorded as they are here they would not be the place to begin to sift through the Holmboe lists.

In Knud Ketting's always readable notes Holmboe's own thoughts on metamorphosis are quoted. The composer favours structure over variations. Metamorphosis charts change from one thing to another.

Epitaph suggests flickering flames and rising insurrection with a higher quotient of Shostakovich than is quite usual in Holmboe. This is hair-raising music made familiar by woodwind patterns that are typical of the composer and some scatter-gun writing for angst ridden strings Some of the brass writing has the ceremonial flourish of Gabrieli but this is deadly serious stuff with some of it closer to Shostakovich's Razliv and Seventh Symphony than to Holmboe's usual stamping grounds.

Monolith is the shortest of the metamorphoses. Its big-boned timpani suggest, at first, some violent rite but soon become much more cosmopolitan with the now usual Shostakovich-like feel to some passages. There are signs that Holmboe had absorbed Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra into his bloodstream at least in relation to the overall shaping of the themes.

Epilog is in one breath of 26 minutes duration. It followed hot on the heels of the much shorter Monolith. It occupies the sixteen year period between the Eighth Symphony and the Ninth Symphony. Epilog could easily have been called a symphony and no-one would have blinked. It has that character. While not, to these ears, Sibelian it is a dark work and unusually, in fact uniquely for the Metamorphoses, returns to the opening theme.

Tempo Variabile written for the Bergen orchestra is in 4 sections and is shot through with the ruthlessness of Shostakovich in Symphonies 10 and 12 and the discontent and anguish of Allan Pettersson in the braying ululation of the brass. In 1972 Pettersson was beginning to make an impact on the world music scene. It would be interesting to know what Holmboe thought of Pettersson's more intuitive, almost rhapsodic symphonies. Bartók and central European streams run through these pages in confluence with Nielsen-like ideas; the latter especially in the woodwind and French horns.

Rob Barnett

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