Hugo ALFVÉN (1872-1960)
Symphony No. 5 in A minor Op.54 (1942-53) [53:58]
((i) Lento – Allegro non troppo [19:45]; (ii) Andante [8:29];
(iii) Lento – Allegro – Presto molto agitato [7:39];
(iv) Finale: Allegro con brio [18:05])
Andante religioso(1913) [3:49]
Symphony Orchestra/Niklas Willén
rec. De Geer Hall, Norrköping, Sweden, 15-17 June 2004 (Symphony);
23-27 May 2005 (Andante religioso) DDD NAXOS 8.557612 [57:47]
is a company which seems to take a long view and it has embarked
on many worthwhile series. This one started with recordings
made in 1996 and now concludes with Alfvén’s final symphony,
a work which occupied him for a comparable amount time before
it was first performed in 1953. He continued to revise it
for several years afterwards and was never fully satisfied
with the third and fourth movements. Tim Perry has already
reviewed this disc (see review)
and found the result “phenomenal”, making it a bargain of
the month in March. This is only the second recording of
the work – Neeme
Järvi’s 1992 rendition with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic
Orchestra being the competition. That is available on BIS
coupled with the suite from the 1923 ballet The Mountain
King – a more logical choice than the brief Andante
religioso offered here since the composer drew some of
the material for his last symphony from it. Aside from that,
it seems wrong to put the makeweight after the symphony since
it is not recommendable as a postlude after the drama of
the finale and needs to be programmed before the symphony
or out. Järvi’s Alfvén series is now available in a highly-desirable
money- and space-saving box which Rob Barnett reviewed in
2004 (see review).
symphony is in four movements with the slow movement placed
second, thus following all its predecessors apart from the
fourth which inverts the order of the central movements.
More than two complete decades separate it from the fourth
which was written just after the First World War; Alfvén’s
musical language remains rooted in earlier times. It is a
large and turbulent musical canvas which makes big demands
on the orchestra and requires the conductor to work overtime
to keep the piece hanging together.
share Tim Perry’s view that the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
and Niklas Willén meet these challenges very successfully.
What is more, there is no doubt in my mind that this is a
more convincing reading than Järvi’s. The stopwatch tells
us that Willén is slower in every movement and the total
timing difference is about 6 minutes but this is not the
issue. Willén doesn’t feel slower at all but he does sound
convinced by the piece and he consistently finds more in
it. Take for example the third movement – described by the
booklet as an intermezzo. This is actually one of Alfvén’s
most original creations – after a dark and brooding opening
the xylophone has a solo before some stormy material from
the first movement is interwoven. In Norrköping there is
palpable humour in this solo which was missed in Stockholm.
The difference between the two versions largely lies in atmosphere
and Willén’s version captures this more successfully and
holds the attention more consistently – particularly in the
big spans of the outer movements. In the slow movement there
is a bittersweet feeling here which Järvi only hints at.
am tempted to wonder whether the composer’s reservations
about the work might have disappeared had he been able to
hear this recording. This is a version that might just rehabilitate
the piece and set it alongside the fourth as the pinnacle
of his work rather than some fumblings of old age. In terms
of recorded sound, the Naxos has more presence and I find
the BIS just a shade recessed although undoubtedly it is
the above might sound negative towards Järvi’s series, I
should stress that my comments are relative rather than absolute.
Indeed, if it is a complete Alfvén series that one is looking
for then his is a more consistent one and the cost of acquiring
the BIS box is about the same as the five Naxos discs separately.
But even if you have that set or Järvi’s separate disc of
the fifth symphony, this is an essential purchase. Sorry
Naxos but I am going to repeat what I said in a recent review
of the last volume of Schubert’s quartets – please box this
one up neatly soon.
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