The Twelve Concertinos by Lars-Erik Larsson
are works that were totally unknown to me. Intim Musik have presented
the first seven of them on this current disk.
Lars-Erik Larsson was born at Akarp in Sweden on 15th
May 1908. He studied music at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm
but later continued his musical education in Leipzig and Vienna. He
was a pupil of the great Alban Berg. More interestingly perhaps within
the context of the current disc is the influence of Hindemith and Schoenberg.
It was through a careful consideration of styles and musical influences
that the young composer developed his unique brand of neo-classical
music infused with romanticism and Scandinavian folk influences. It
is this, perhaps, which defines these pieces and the composer’s works
Initially Larsson worked as a music teacher in Malmo
and Lund; he was also musical critic of the Lunds Dagblad.
His big break into the world scene was at the 1934
ISCM festival where the first performance of his Sinfonietta
was heard. He was offered a position at Swedish Radio in Stockholm as
a resident composer and producer of musical programmes. He quite naturally
wrote a number of works for this medium and also ventured into the film
In 1947 he was appointed professor of composition at
the his old alma mater - the Royal College of Music. The final appointment
was as director of music at Uppsala University, where he remained until
his retirement in 1971. He died at Helsingborg on Boxing Day 1986.
This is not the place to give a detailed list of his
compositions. However it may be helpful to mention a few highlights
to give some idea of the breadth of this composer’s industry and talent.
There was an opera – The Princess of Cyprus
which appears to have been withdrawn. Perhaps his most important works
are the Violin Concerto, the Music for Orchestra and the
Lyric Fantasy and of course the Sinfonietta. There were
two symphonies, one an early student work and the second withdrawn except
for the third movement.
However it is with the Twelve Concertinos that
we are concerned. In 1945 Larsson was appointed inspector of a number
of amateur orchestras that were entitled to receive grants from the
government. He noticed that there was a gap in their repertoire – they
were playing little that could be classified as ‘modern.’ This was possibly
because their technique was limited, or because there was an aversion
to much that was deemed ‘avant garde’ at the time. So Larsson composed
twelve short works that filled this gap. They are all designed to have
an interesting and technically complex solo part however the string
parts are relatively straightforward, well within the capabilities of
an amateur orchestra. It is a sound idea and leads to some very fine
The works were composed under one opus number – Op.45
- between 1955 and 1956. The first seven concertinos vary in length
- from just over six minutes to nearly thirteen minutes. Each concertino
is based on the three movement form – a slow one being placed between
two allegro movements. For completeness I will give a list of all twelve
concertinos. They are presented in ‘score’ order.
1. Flute; 2. Oboe; 3. Clarinet; 4. Bassoon; 5. Horn;
6. Trumpet; 7. Trombone; 8. Violin; 9. Viola; 10. Cello; 11. Double
Bass; 12. Piano.
If we are to situate these works within the history
of music it is probably fair to relate them to the Kammermusik written
by Hindemith in the 1920s. Some of Malcolm Arnold’s chamber music represent
further examples of music written for very practical purposes. However
it is important to make one fundamental point. This is not merely academic
music. There is no way that we can say that they are studies or musical
exercises. There is considerable musical achievement in these pieces;
each one could well be regarded as a minor masterpiece. Larsson manages
to combine workmanship with inspiration and one cannot say better than
that. Furthermore, he has not been condescending to either soloist or
orchestra. He has not ‘written down’ to anybody. The overall impression
given by these works is of well wrought pieces full of charm delight
and even depth.
These seven works are played with great concentration
and understanding. Camerata Roman take these works extremely seriously
and this shows well in the recording. Although these works may be relatively
easy to play, they are not so simple to interpret well. They are presented
here as supremely attractive miniatures that well deserve to be heard.
The name of the ensemble is derived from Johan Helmich
Roman (1694-1758) who is regarded by many as being the father of Swedish
Music. The word ‘camerata’ implies a group of musicians meeting without
a conductor. His means that all the players have to be aware of the
progress and nuances of the music. This is well achieved here.
Regrettably there are no sleeve notes worth bothering
about. Only the briefest paragraph about the man and this particular
set of pieces. And of course this is unfortunate. Few people outside
Scandinavia will be familiar with Larsson’s music. Even those who have
heard some for his ‘better known’ pieces like the Winter Tale
and the Pastoral Suite will require all the help they can get
if they are to enjoy these fine, technically competent works. I hope
that I have compensated for this deficiency by giving the potted biography
above and my few remarks about the ‘Concertinos.’
This is a fine CD marred only by a serious fault
in the disc surface. Where listenable it has good sound quality
and excellent playing. The music is so good that it defies belief that
these works are so little known. Perhaps they are more popular in Sweden.
I have no hesitation in recommending this disc to all who love well
written, well played and highly interesting and attractive music. I
look forward to hearing the next five concertinos.