Eyvind ALNĆS (1872-1932)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor op. 7 (1897) [41:18]
Symphony No. 2 in D major op. 43 (1923) [36:56]
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Terje Mikkelsen
rec. Reforma Baznika, Riga, 31 July-1 August 2008. hybrid SACD. DDD
STERLING CDS 1084-2 [78:14]

This is volume 1 in Sterling’s Norwegian Romantics series. They spawn as many series as Naxos but their rate of production is of necessity more sedate. That they produce so much and of such quality is down to the overarching sense of direction and energy of Bo Hyttner. The span of his achievement and that of his sponsors, principally the Swedish Cultural Council and in this case Norsk Kulturrad can be seen at the Sterling website. Not that Sterling has finished with the Swedish Romantics but this disc is one of a stream of nationally-themed Romantic composer series – this time from, Norway.

Eyvind Alnćs was born in Fredrikstad on 29 April 1872 and died in Oslo on 24 December 1932. He studied music in Oslo and then in Leipzig with Carl Reinecke. He was one of the progenitors of the Norwegian performing arts organisation TONO as Atterberg was for its equivalent in Sweden. Alnaes was however less productive than his longer-lived Swedish counterpart.

His long-limbed First Symphony is in four big movements. The style epitomises the nationalist late-romantic ethos. It is the work of a seemingly confident young man at ease in an idiom that partakes of late Tchaikovsky and of Dvorák. The Adagio sings soulfully and when it veers towards bleak there is an affectionate underpinning that pulls the spirit from the slough – yet with enough struggle to avoid victory. This follows a first movement which has a nocturnal conspiratorial accent, a determined turbulence and a theatrical tension. Some of the writing recalls Tchaikovsky 4 and 5 and some looks to Berlioz. Much of the orchestration is airborne and shows a deft lightness of touch. You can sense that in the final Non troppo allegro (IV) which is romantically haunting and gently winged. The music is typically endearing although the final flourishes are conventional. The symphony secured a performance in Berlin in 1897. The four movement Second Symphony from a quarter century later holds true to the same idiom. The flowing and flourishing first movement is dramatic – a plot played out against minatory black clouds. The second movement has both a hymnal element and the pregnant tension of the prelude to Berlioz’s Marche au Supplice – there’s a chill in the air and the music shivers. After a chucklingly good-humoured but not daft Allegro Scherzando with a lyrical swooning core we come to the finale. This combines stately aspects with some of the strongest facets of nationalism to surface across the eight movements that make up Alnaes’ two symphonies. The cheery mindset of this movement does perhaps diffuse some of the symphonic tautness set up by the earlier movements. Nevertheless it’s a work full of character and pleasing inspiration.

His output was not large. There are many songs of which you can hear four sung by Kirsten Flagstad on an Eloquence CD. Chaliapin also recorded some of them. In 2007 we had the first recording of the Alnaes Piano Concerto in D major on Hyperion. The coupling was the Sinding Piano Concerto.

The apt and extensive notes are by Audun Jonassen.

There you have it: two very satisfying large-scale dramatic-romantic Norwegian symphonies in the idiom caught between Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Dvorák. Sterling remain part of the vanguard of worthwhile and compelling revivals.

Rob Barnett