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Hugo ALFVÉN (1872-1960)
The Symphonies and Rhapsodies
CD 1:
Uppsalarapsodi (Swedish Rhapsody No.2), Op.24 (1907) [9'54]
Symphony No.1 in F minor, Op.7 (1897) [40'28]
Drapa for large orchestra, Op.27 (1908) [10'21]
Andante Religioso from Revelation Cantata, Op.31 (1913) [3'41]
CD 2:
Midsommarvaka (Swedish Rhapsody No.1), Op.19 [13'30]
Symphony No.2 in D major, Op.11 (1897-98) [52:50]
CD 3:
Dalarapsodi - Swedish Rhapsody No.3, Op.47 (1931) [21'26]
Symphony No.3 in E minor, Op.23 (1905) [37:19]
Den förlorade sonen (The Prodigal Son), Suite (1957) [17:14]
CD 4:
En skärgårdssägen (A Tale from the Archipelago), Op.20 (1904) [16'11]
Symphony No.4 in C minor, Op.39, Från havsbandet (From the Outer Skerries) (1918-19) [47'21]
CD 5:
Bergakungen (The Mountain King), Suite, Op.37 (1916-23) [14:49]
Symphony No.5 in A minor, Op.54 (1942-53) [46:27]
Elegy from Gustav II Adolf, Op.49 (1932) [4'06]
Christer Johnsson (soprano saxophone); Alf Nilsson (oboe); Ib Lanzky-Otto (horn) (Dalarapsodi); Christina Högman (soprano); Claes-Håkan Ahnsjö (tenor); Karl-Ove Mannberg (violin); Elemér Lavotha (cello); Lucia Negro (piano); Per-Olof Gillblad (cor anglais) (4)
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Stockholm Concert Hall, Sweden, 11-15 February 1988 (1); 3-5 December 1987 (2); 25-27 May 1989 (3); 4-6 October 1990 (4); 17-18 December 1992 (5). DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 8974 [5CDs: 65:49 + 67:33 + 78:30 + 64:19 + 67:58]
Experience Classicsonline

This collaboration between BIS and Brilliant breathes new market life into a major Scandinavian symphonic cycle.

At the heart of this set lie five extremely substantial symphonies. Alfven’s first three are from the prolific decade: 1897-1907. The gloriously Straussian and oceanic Fourth dates from just after the end of the Great War. The Fifth, with which he struggled for many years was under work from 1942 onwards.

The First Symphony is serious, gangling, romantic, Lisztian and nationalistic while the Second Symphony is a sea-inspired work. The breadth of the sea-swell in the Stockholm Archipelago is suggested by the andante. Alfvén lifts his material with a piercing angst. The Third Symphony is more succinct. It was written in Italy at Sori Ligure. The first movement carries the spirit of the rhapsodies. This is a work full of high spirits and light. The Fourth Symphony was premiered at the Royal Academy Stockholm on 4 November 1919. It is luxuriant and over-long but has a memorable profile. It was an imaginative stroke to use two vocalising voices prominently amid the orchestral ‘wash’. This opulent score opens magically. This is rewarding music racked with the turbulence of the waves. It has previously been recorded on Bluebell ABCD by Westerberg with Söderström and there is also a long gone Swedish Society Discofil LP in which Nils Grevillius directs the Stockholm Philharmonic. This is the only complete commercial recording of the Fifth Symphony. It seems to have cost Alfvén dear for he struggled to complete it from 1942 until 1960 the year of his death. About the same length as the Fourth, the Fifth is serious - lacking anything of the light theatre about it.  

Legend of the Skerries
is a mood picture in sound with a shimmering and gurgling atmosphere. The suite from Prodigal Son had its premiere to mark the composer's 85th birthday. As with the Third Symphony the spirit is lighter and rustic with closer parallels to the rhapsodies than to most of the symphonies. Country dancing and the polka play a major part in the proceedings. The Bergakungen suite is more dramatic. There are three Swedish Rhapsodies by Alfvén with the most famous being the first the Midsommarvaka. The Uppsalarasodi has a rather Brahmsian gravitas but with nationalistic infusions. The Third Rhapsody is the Dalarapsodi from 1931. The 1908 Drapa conjures through harp and fanfares the court of King Oscar II. A glowing romantic-melancholia for strings rises to heights of considerable grandeur. The Andante Religioso again draws on Alfvén's facility for string themes. It has a strong Scandinavian wistfulness woven into its radiant progress. The final CD ends with the trembling yet restful Elegy from Gustav II Adolf.

If by any chance you have come to regard Järvi as a deliverer of routine recordings in massed quantity let this set be a lesson to you. When these recordings were made there was not a single one of them where he lets the tension or imagination slip from his hand.

A great bargain for the enquiring music-lover.

Rob Barnett 


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