The Swedish composer Ingvar Lidholm has a very strong
CV, taking in periods of study in France, Switzerland and Italy, courses
in Darmstadt, professor of composition at the Royal College of Music
in Stockholm and membership of the ISCM Presidium. He does not seem
to have been a prolific composer and this CD is the first of a proposed
series by BIS featuring Lidholm's orchestral works. He is evidently
fond of single movements works and all the pieces on this record are
in this form. The pieces span 35 years of Lidholm's working life and
form a good introduction to his music.
The first piece, 'Poesis' was first performed by the
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Herbert Blomstedt
in 1964 and was commissioned for the orchestra's fiftieth jubilee. A
recording made at the concert went on to win the Koussevitzky International
Recording Award for 1965. The title means 'making poetry' and the piece
has some points in common with Lidholm's cantata 'Night of the Poet'.
It evidently caused some consternation at its first performance, with
the theatrically free cadenzas for piano and a grotesquely pathetic
double bass solo. An avant garde piece, it is full of 'new music': clusters,
unconventional playing methods, emphasis on sound, rhythm and dynamics.
It starts very, very quietly with a couple of sand-blocks and shimmering
high strings, almost like someone starting to draw breath. The music
gradually unfolds, juxtaposing short bursts of sound. The piano is very
prominent, providing background textures and splashy cadenzas. At times
this seems like DIY modern music, throwing in every sonic cliché,
as if the orchestra was undertaking a guided improvisation rather than
a controlled, structured piece. Finally a single pitch is held for over
a minute by different instruments, varying in intensity from very quiet
to very loud. The composer stated that he does not know what the piece
is about, but in fact one of the inspirations behind the piece is Samuel
Beckett's play 'Words and Music'. Once the piano enters (about a third
of the way through the piece), you cannot help but feel that underlying
everything is some sort of unwritten dramatic dialogue.
Twelve years elapsed before Lidholm produced another
orchestral piece. The second piece on the record, 'Greetings from an
Old World' was written in 1976 in response to a commission from the
Clarion Music Society's chamber orchestra in New York to celebrate the
bi-centenary of the USA. The piece uses a classical sized orchestra,
with the addition of piano and vibraphone. One of the ingredients in
the piece is the melancholy song 'Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen' by
the 15th century Dutch composer Heinrich Isaac. The text
of the song deals with breaking up from a place, with waiting and with
departing. The departure has been forced upon the poet and he longs
to return. The piece has the same rather spare structure as 'Poesis'.
Again it is constructed from multiple, rather short, events. But it
coheres structurally because the disparate elements are held together
by the germs of music from the Isaac piece. Written in one movement,
with a number of sections, fragments of the melody are presented tantalisingly
and sometimes hidden. Towards the end the song occurs in its entirety.
At one point the music becomes highly charged and dissolves into a lyrical
solo on the cello.
The third piece on the disc, 'stund, när ditt
inre' (hour, when your soul), is the most recent, a setting of
a text by the romantic poet Erik Johan Stagnelius for baritone and symphony
orchestra. The title is taken from the first line of the poem ('Friend!,
In this desolate hour, when your soul is bathed in darkness). The poem
concludes with the lines 'Night is the mother of day, Chaos is next
to God' and the composer states that he has always had an attraction
for 'this rather mad line in Swedish literature' (his opera based on
Strindberg's 'Dream Play' was given its first performance in 1992).
'stund, när ditt inre' attempts to conjure up the feelings
of a person in deep crisis and the hope that ultimately returns. The
solo baritone (a strong Peter Mattei) is prominent throughout, singing
a dramatic declamation. Around this rather stark, plain vocal part,
the composer weaves a web of more melodic material, sometimes dense
and sometimes surprisingly spare. The result is a sombre, bleak work
and Lidholm’s angular melodic style is very suited to the poem’s atmosphere.
The final work on the disk forms a parallel with 'Greetings
from an Old World' It was commissioned by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic
Orchestra for a tour of the Soviet union and uses a hymn from the Russian
Orthodox tradition. A 'kontakion' is an ancient Russian liturgical song
for a particular day of the year. The one uses here is a hymn for the
dead and the melody was used by Benjamin Britten in his 'Third Cello
Suite'. The work is a sober one, inevitably in view of the material
on which it is based. But it is full of contrasts between loud and soft,
high and low pitches - a bassoon solo explores both the upper and lower
reaches of the instrument’s range. The music concludes with a haunting
trumpet solo, played offstage.
Though Lidholm's later pieces evince more of an interest
in structure, a common thread running through all of them is an interest
in timbres and colours, offsetting one against another, contrasting
short events of differing volumes. Though his music can be loud (and
the disc has a very wide dynamic range), the overall feeling is of a
surprising sense of spareness. Lidholm rarely seems to over-score, achieving
his effects with often just one or two orchestral lines.
The Norrköping Symphony Orchestra was founded
in 1912 and is one of Sweden's 7 professional orchestras. They play
the music admirably, and only occasionally do you wonder what the music
would sound like played by a more virtuosic orchestra. The long held
note at the end of 'Poesis', for instance, suffers from some wavering
of pitch. Their principal conductor, Lü Jia, a talented young Asian
who is now resident in Italy.
This disk is the beginning of a promised series devoted
to Lidholm's orchestral music, and Lidholm has supported the making
of the disc, so the performances must have his imprimatur. The excellent
booklet does not explain what was the basis for selecting these orchestral
pieces. So I am unclear as to whether I am listening to a representative
selection of his pieces or his best pieces (however that is defined).
Still, Lidholm inhabits a fascinating sound-world and I await the future
releases with interest.