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Hugo ALFVÉN (1872-1960)
Synnøve Solbakken: Suite (from filmscore) Op. 50 (1934) [27:48]
En Bygdesaga (A Country Tale): Suite (from filmscore for Mans kvinna Op. 53 (1944) [33:09]
Elégie (At Emil Sjögren’s funeral) Op. 38 [12:15]
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Niklas Willén
rec. De Geer Hall, Norrköping, Sweden, 17-18 June 2004, 23-27 May 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557828 [73:12]

The 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.
En 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.
The 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 Fifth Symphony.
This 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.
The 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 Vigil.
Patrick C Waller


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