Niklas Willén is
well on his way towards completing his cycle of the Alfvén Symphonies
for Naxos. Unlike some other similar cycles, different
orchestras have been engaged: the Royal Scottish National for
1 and 3; the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland for 2 and
the Iceland Symphony Orchestra for 4.
those who have not come to the symphonies yet, I can tell you
that they are tuneful and show a good sense of thematic development.
They are very pleasant to listen to, somewhat similar to the
orchestral works of Grieg.
Fourth Symphony (subtitled “From the Outermost Skerries”) uses
a soprano and tenor singing wordless passages similar to the
slow movement of Nielsen’s Third Symphony. The subject matter
of the symphony involves a pictorial representation of the Skerries
- the archipelago near Stockholm. The symphony depicts the movement of the sea during storms, moonlight
and sunshine. The composer produced an earlier work, a tone
poem entitles A Legend of the Skerries (1902), which
inhabits the same sound-world, albeit without the symphonic
development of the current work.
a noted water colourist and author as well as being an extremely
successful composer, was criticised when this symphony was first
performed because it used the two soloists to enhance the colour
of the work. In addition there was concern over the erotic content
of the programme of the work, telling as it does, the tale of
two young souls, and their reaction to the moods of the sea
which in turn are symbolic of the human heart. Alfvén went some
way towards refuting this criticism, by dedicating the symphony
to his then teenage daughter “Marghita”.
is a pioneering recording which used to be available on Bluebell
(ABCD 001) which, according to the RED catalogue is no longer
available, but may be available as an import. This is performed
by Elisabeth Söderström and Gösta Winberg with Stig Westerberg
conducting the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. If I am honest,
the earlier disc, recorded in 1979, is superior to the Naxos release, as it tingles with the excitement
of discovery. Also, good as Willén is, he is no match for Westerberg
in his understanding of Alfvén’s sound-world.
Naxos recording is better, however, being
a modern digital offering, recorded in a sympathetic acoustic,
allowing all parts to be heard clearly. The orchestra is certainly
well up to the task.
the Naxos release scores over the earlier disc,
is in the playing time, which whilst still not up to some of
the current lengths is expanded by the inclusion of the Festival
Overture written by Alfvén in 1944. This is more conservative
with the composer writing in popular mode for a wide public.
It is great fun and brings this very attractive disc to an exciting
finish. In addition the Naxos recording is banded so you can pick up the four individual movements
although the composition plays without a break. The Bluebell
release is in one band only, although if it is re-released,
this may be rectified. One further feature is the cover illustrations
being used for this series. This disc gives Strindberg’s Sunset,
from 1892, which is superb. All of this for £4.99! We don’t
know how lucky we are.