Hugo ALFVÉN (1872-1960) Synnøve Solbakken: Suite (from filmscore) Op.
50 (1934) [27:48] En Bygdesaga (A Country Tale): Suite (from filmscore
kvinna Op. 53 (1944) [33:09] Elégie (At Emil
Sjögren’s funeral) Op. 38 [12:15]
Symphony Orchestra/Niklas Willén
rec. De Geer Hall, Norrköping, Sweden, 17-18 June 2004, 23-27
May 2005. DDD NAXOS 8.557828 [73:12]
two suites derived from film music which Alfvén wrote during
the 1930s and 1940s. They recall the pastoral mood of his
much earlier and probably best-known work Midsummer Vigil.
The plot of both films involves romantic liaisons set in
the countryside which run into difficulties but end happily.
Neither seems to have been a success at the box office but
that had nothing to do with the music which was subsequently
reduced into two six movement suites. These only vaguely
seem to paraphrase the plots; Synnøve Solbakken generally
focuses more on sex than violence whereas the reverse is
true in En Bygdesaga.
Synnøve [of] Solbakken is the name of the
heroine, lover of Torbjörn
who gets injured in a fight with a rival. The opening Sunday
Morning in the Forest is lush and punctuated by cuckoo
calls. Synnøve then contemplates her love on the mountain
pasture before Poignant grief intervenes but the atmosphere
is hardly less pastoral. The fourth movement is called Torbjörn
and Synnøve and they seem to be dancing. Yearning is
followed by a return to Solbakken – the name of the village
rather than a surname – where no doubt they all lived happily
ever after. If my summary makes it sound perfunctory, the
music is actually quite delightful and obviously Scandinavian,
clearly deriving much from Grieg.
Bygdesaga means “A Country Tale” and is rather
sterner stuff. Certainly the introduction has some drama
but Dreams and some
moments in Guilty Love – Anguish remind us that
this is set deep in the heart of the Swedish countryside.
The fourth movement is called Jealousy but soon
leads to a Pastorale. The fifth movement is a funeral
march but the lovers have survived to escape across the
fields in a finale called Baying of Wolves.
Swedish organist and composer Emil Sjögren died in 1918 and
his funeral inspired this powerful and extended elegy. The
booklet tells us that this “tribute is a tone poem that often
anticipates the Fourth Symphony on which he was soon to embark”.
There is also an obvious direct reference to an anguished
theme which eventually found its way into the much later
disc seems to be by way of a follow-up to the recently issued
recording of Alfvén’s Fifth Symphony from the same forces
in Norrköping (see review).
That has already become a potential disc of the year for
me – wonderfully committed playing which outshines rivals
from the capital under Neeme Järvi. Here the orchestra are
less taxed but there is much sensitive playing on offer.
Once again they are very well recorded.
elegy is a work of substance but the two suites are programme
music based on programmes which lack just that. Nevertheless
it is good that Alfvén’s music is being rescued from oblivion
and it will be enjoyed by anyone who warms to the Midsummer
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