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Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-1996)
Sinfonias I-IV for strings Opp. 73a-d (1957-1962): I Molto sostenuto (1957) [11:15]; II Tranquillo (1957) [19:01]; III Allegro con brio (1958-59) [10:51]; IV Preludio, Interludio I, Interludio II, Postludio (1962) [15:31]
Plus bonus CD featuring Chairos: the movements of Sinfonias I-IV re-sequenced
Søren Elbæk (violin); Troels Svane (cello)
Danish Radio Sinfonietta/Hannu Koivula
rec. Danmarks Radio, Studio 2, 1997. DDD
DA CAPO 8.226017-018 [56:52 + 56:52]

This group of Holmboe's four sinfonias chronologically follows Holmboe’s sequence of thirteen chamber concertos (1939-1956) already recorded by Da Capo with Koivula and the Danish Radio Sinfonietta.

These works are all downright tonal. The first swerves and sidles between austere and tender. This is music vivacious but sometimes impassive or exhausted. Although Sinfonias I-III carry Italian expression marks there is a kaleidoscope of mood in each. The First projects Tippett-like joy but also carries the ‘scorch’ of Shostakovich. The Second, 'tranquillo', includes a lively ferment of string sound from 7.02 onwards while also veering into etiolated desolation and the echoes of a Bachian chorale. Holmboe's palette extends also to shuddering excitement (13.21) as well as evincing the ability to conjure a glow sound constantly in cycle between cool and warm. The Third includes music that is dartingly energetic. It is momentarily like Tapiola and then returns to a slightly chilled redolence of Wirén's Serenade.

The Fourth is in four movements and is the only work to deploy solo lines (cello and violin). The Preludio is hesitant, wispy, tense, almost like Webern but never so extreme and Holmboe's materials are always tonal. Both Interludios (I and II) deploy mysterious scamperings and a col legno clatter with solo instruments reaching out to the listener.

The four Sinfonias can be heard either as independent works or as part of a larger work in which the movements arranged in a different order. That larger work is called Chairos. Da Capo have saved us the intricacy of reprogramming the CD player by including a bonus CD which has the same tracks as CD1 but sequenced in the order prescribed to formulate the Chairos work. The Chairos sequence is: Preludio;

Sinfonia 1; Interludio 1; Sinfonia 2; Interludio 2; Sinfonia 3; Postludio.

Holmboe wrote that Chairos means 'time in the psychological sense - the passage of time as we sense it as opposed to Chronos' the mechanical passage of seconds and minutes and hours. However before we become drawn into that vortex we need to know that the composer has commented that such exegesis 'can only have a negative interest for anyone who wishes to listen to the music as such.'

These are spirited readings, full of unruly life but in this case without the last word in luxury string tone - quite possibly none was contemplated by the composer. There are a few moments of strain and thinness but in general the music-making is highly sympathetic as you would expect from a conductor and orchestra who have spent years in the service of this enriching music.
Premiere details:-
Sinfonia I - Pro Musica/Lamberto Gardelli 7 March 1958
Sinfonia II; III; IV - Aarhus City Orchestra/Per Dreier, 20 Nov 1958, 2 Jan 1962, 27 Jan 1964

Without the gigantic melodic release of the cornerstone works for string orchestra by Tippett, Elgar and Bliss these four Sinfonias recall the best in 20th century string writing. At various times they may remind you of Howells' Concerto for Strings, the Bliss, Ginastera and Tippett.

This disc is uniform with Da Capo's Chamber Concerto four volumes and the two CDs of the Preludes. The Sinfonias are significant and, more to the point, stimulating and loveable. In every way a compelling successor to the other CDs in the Da Capo series.

Rob Barnett

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