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Tor AULIN (1866-1914)
Concert Piece in G minor for violin and orchestra (1891) [16.34]
Violin Concerto No. 2 (1893) [23.02]
Gotlandish Dances (1910) [13.43]
Swedish Dances (1913) [20.09]
Tobias Ringborg (violin)
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Niklas Willén
Rec. Gävle Concert Hall, Sweden, 28-31 May, 23 Sept 2002. DDD
STERLING CDS-1050-2 [73.35]


The name of Tor Aulin (1866-1914) is much better known than his music. Indeed, it is as a conductor or violinist that one occasionally encounters it in discussions of turn-of-the-century Nordic music, whether as leader of the renowned Aulin Quartet or as a conductor and interpreter of the works of his great friend (and greater colleague), Wilhelm Stenhammar. In his native Sweden, however, memories survive of his compositions, whether his 1903 violin tutor, a set of Aquarelles for violin and piano or three violin concertos and orchestral dances. There are other pieces, including an early String Quartet, a Violin Sonata (1892) and pieces for piano, violin and piano and songs. Precious little is available on disc, although Sterling has previously issued his music for August Strindberg’s play Mäster Olof (CDS-1011-2).

Aulin himself did not help matters with a somewhat imprecise dating of his pieces, so that it is often impossible to state when a work was composed. Opus numbers, Publication or premiere dates help, up to a point, but there is considerable room for manoeuvre. For example, confusion surrounds his violin concertos, as Lennart Hedwall’s note admirably details. Aulin is often cited as having written three, plus the G minor Concert Piece that opens this thoroughly enjoyable disc. However, it would seem that not a jot has survived of a ‘Violin Concerto No. 1’ by Aulin which, curiously, also happened to be in the key of G minor and was reportedly premiered on the same day in January 1891 as the Concert Piece. The balance of probability, as Hedwall avers, is that Concert Piece and Concerto are one and the same, and that Aulin later retitled his relatively brief (at 16’ 34" here) single-span first concerto. Yet it is not hard to see why he might have been tempted to call the work a fully-fledged concerto – the opening section, corresponding to a first movement builds from a fairly ordinary opening rather impressively into a nine-minute movement. It is succeeded, attacca, by a brief cadenza and a final section which functions as an extended, varied recapitulation. It is this truncated close, veering away from the full concerto form, that renders his renaming apposite, especially when set against the closely contemporary Second Concerto, written in 1891 or 1892, even though it is of fairly modest proportions, playing here for just over 23’. Indeed, it may have been the examples of Nos. 2 and 3 (in C minor, 1906) that persuaded Aulin to demote the ‘First’.

Despite its unexpansive size, there is a bigness about the Second that is one of its most remarkable features. As in the Concert Piece, the solo writing is masterly and, unlike many concertos written by violinist-composers, does not sacrifice substance for display. Aulin’s Second, for all that it is not particularly adventurous or personal in idiom, does what it does extremely effectively. A pupil of Sauret – and therefore a ‘grand-pupil’, as it were, of Vieuxtemps and Bériot – there is a Francophile refinement in the scoring and expression that allies well with the pallid Nordic tone of the melodies (and I use the term ‘pallid’ purely in its descriptive meaning, not as a reprimand). But Aulin also learned well from his playing of Mendelssohn’s E minor and Bruch’s G minor concertos, the influence of both of which can be felt in the underlying structure, with telescoped sonata structures in the outer movements, as well as in the motivic interconnections between the themes. What is also undeniable is his melodic flair, making this concerto worthy of attention for all those enamoured of the lighter side of High Romanticism.

Tobias Ringborg proves a most sympathetic and sweet-toned advocate of these (to my ears) unfamiliar works. Aulin’s generally positive, outward-looking style is in marked contrast to the violin sonatas of his younger contemporary Emil Sjögren, which Ringborg has recorded very neatly for Caprice (CAP21500). What I liked here about Ringborg was his tone, full enough where necessary to match the breadth of Aulin’s music, but also not over-played: he never dominates the music the way some virtuosi can. Willén and the Gävle Symphony Orchestra accompany close to perfection in beautifully proportioned sound.

Conductor and orchestra acquit themselves with equal distinction in Aulin’s Gotlandish Dances, Op. 28, an orchestration of three of five dances for violin and piano (Nos. 1 and 2 being omitted) of the same title that were composed as his Op. 23 around 1907-8; the orchestrations were completed by November 1910 when the composer conducted the premiere in Gothenburg. The three orchestral pieces (one might say four as there is a lively middle section in the central Andante malincolico) are a folk-inspired delight in which one hears again, as if from across a mountain valley, the air of Alfvén’s Midsummer Vigil Swedish Rhapsody. The quicker outer movements are more straightforward, with a faint hint of the Respighi of the Ancient Airs and Dances Suites in the orchestral textures.

The Gotlandish Dances are to my mind something of a gentle find and deserve wider currency. The Swedish Dances are less immediately attractive, though eventually make an effective set to close this enterprising disc. Once more these were a reworking of a violin-and-piano set, Op. 32, written probably in 1911 and orchestrated the following year. At twenty minutes in all, they perhaps err a little on the prolix side – especially after the estimable restraint of the Gotlandish Dances – but are nonetheless full of charm. It is to be hoped that Sterling will bring us in due course the Third Concerto and some more of Aulin’s gently exuberant and affirmative art.

Guy Rickards

see also review by Rob Barnett


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