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Vagn HOLMBOE (1909 – 1996)
Sinfonias I-IV Op.73 (1957/62)
(+ bonus CD: Chairos)
Danish Radio Sinfonietta/Hannu Koivula
Recorded: Danmarks Radio, Studio 2, 1997
DACAPO 8.226017/8 [56:52 + 57:00]

With complete recordings of the symphonies (BIS), the string quartets, the chamber concertos and the works for sinfonietta (all on DaCapo) readily available, it was inevitable that a recording of the Sinfonias I-IV Op.73 would be released some day. These pieces are crucial milestones in Holmboe’s symphonic output as well as important steps in the development of the metamorphosis technique that characterises most of his later major works.

The first three Sinfonias were composed in fairly quick succession, between 1957 and 1959, and originally conceived as independent works to be played separately. It seems, though, that at the time he completed Sinfonia III Op.73C (1958/9), the composer eventually contemplated a larger work of which the Sinfonias would constitute the main parts. Although conceived as an independent work, too, Sinfonia IV Op.73D, completed in 1962, was structured somewhat differently; for the first three Sinfonias are single-movement structures, albeit often falling into several sections. Sinfonia IV is in four short movements (Preludio, Interludio I and II, Postludio). It is thus quite possible that by then Holmboe had a larger work in mind incorporating the earlier Sinfonias but needing some extra material. Although each Sinfonia may be performed on its own with musically satisfying results the complete set, performed as Chairos, is considerably more rewarding. This may be due to the fact that Sinfonia IV is globally less convincing as a single work than any of its predecessors. I found it slightly flawed and not entirely convincing when heard on its own. However, when heard in the global context of Chairos, in which each movement of Sinfonia IV plays its part as prelude, interludes and postlude, the piece acquires a totally different meaning; and it is thus evident that Chairos is much more than the sum of its parts; no mean achievement. I have listened to Chairos more often than to the Sinfonias themselves, although they are all superb examples of Holmboe’s formal and orchestral mastery. This most welcome release was long overdue, but now here it is in very fine performances and recordings (but why on earth have these recordings from 1997 had to wait for seven years before being released?). This magnificent release is a must for all Holmboe completists, while it provides for a fine introduction to his substantial output, and is thus likely to appeal to any newcomer to Holmboe’s music.

Hubert Culot

see also review by Rob Barnett

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