One of my recent discoveries is the music of Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson; I was particularly taken with the Helsingborg/Hans-Peter Frank recording of the First
and Second Symphonies
which, inexplicably, hasn’t been reviewed on these pages (BIS-CD-426). The gorgeous blend of Sibelian grandeur and a gentler, more winsome character confirms Larsson as a fresh and original talent who prowled a craggy northern landscape dominated by Nielsen and Sibelius. That’s why I wasted no time downloading this inaugural volume in CPO’s projected Larsson cycle. In particular I was keen to hear the fillers, all of which are new to me.
At the helm is the British conductor Andrew Manze, who is probably best
known for his HIP-inspired performances of baroque and classical works.
That said, he’s since strayed further afield; indeed, I much admired
his conducting of Thomas Adès’s Violin Concerto
and other works (review
He brought to those performances a clarity of thought and generosity
of spirit that should chime rather well with the music of our genial
Swede. As for the Helsingborg orchestra their BIS account of the First
shows they’re quite at home with the thrust and
shape of this surprisingly assured early opus.
That earlier recording, made in 1988/89, is a good example of BIS’s
big, meaty sound of the period, and that too serves Larsson rather well.
The CPO version is even more impressive; for instance there’s
a remarkable degree of inner detail that doesn’t always come through
on the BIS one. That could have as much to do with Manze’s ear
for, and insistence on, such things; in any event it underlines the
of Larsson’s craft, which goes far
beyond those grand – very grand – gestures. Rhythms are
nicely articulated – something I appreciated very much in the
Adès – and there’s a structural integrity to this
performance – a rock-solid certainty – that augurs well
for the rest of this project.
I was mildly disappointed to find that this download is only available
in 16-bit – the disc is a hybrid SACD – but really that's
not a big issue. The CPO sound is high, wide and handsome, with startling
presence and a thrilling jolt to the symphony's percussion-capped peaks.
So, no audio nasties to speak of, just effortless music-making in a
warm and gracious acoustic. The fillers are no less appealing. The Shakespearian
vignettes are especially delightful; the opening Siciliana
is levitating and light-shot and the Intermezzo
pointed and persuasively propelled. These are little gems, and I doubt
they’d sparkle any more seductively than they do here. Indeed,
the rubied lustre of the Epilogue
will take your breath away,
such is its poise and elegance.
By contrast the three-movement Music for Orchestra
has a gravitas
– more rigour, if you will – that doesn’t entirely
quell Larsson’s Romantic spirit. Most pleasing, perhaps, is the
range of colour and nuance that Manze finds in this score; bland or
dry this isn’t, and Larsson's urgent rhythms are as crisp and
clean as one could possibly wish. I was also struck by the sophisticated
recording, with growling brass, silken strings and a satisfyingly taut
bass. Manze’s choice of tempi seem absolutely right too, as demonstrated
by the all-binding beat at the heart of the Andante elegiaco
I’m beginning to think the music of Lars-Erik Larsson is one of
Sweden’s best-kept secrets; when it’s played with this level
of commitment and insight it deserves a place alongside that of Denmark
and Finland’s finest; don’t take my word for it, just sample
the closing Allegro
, which has all the confidence – a
perfect balance of form and content – that we tend to associate
with Larsson’s more illustrious rivals. Even his smaller-scale
pieces – the Pastoral
and Lyric Fantasy
instance – teem with deft invention and quiet loveliness; as if
that weren’t enough it’s all captured in sound of uncommon
fidelity and reach. Heartfelt huzzahs all round.
When it comes to the First Symphony
the BIS recording is not
easily dislodged; besides, it has the advantage of an equally arresting
performance of the Second Symphony
. That said, both releases
are highly desirable, and both deserve a place on your shelves.
Music of substance and stature, eloquently played and beautifully recorded;
a new and significant journey has just begun.