Nordic Concertos

Anders HILLBORG (b.1954)
Clarinet Concerto (Peacock Tales) (1998) [28:43] ¹
Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-1996)
Concerto No.3, Op.21 (1940-42) [16:46] ²
Karin REHNQVIST (b.1957)
On a Distant Shore, Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (2002) [17:47] ³
Bernhard Henrik CRUSELL (1775-1838)
Introduction, Theme and Variations on a Swedish Air, Op.12 [11:24] º
Martin Fröst (clarinet)
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen ¹
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes ²
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Petter Sundqvist ³
Östgöta Symphonic Wind Ensemble/Arie van Beek º
rec. December 2001, Berwald Hall, Stockholm (Hillborg); January 1998, Aalborghallen, Aalborg (Holmboe): May 2003, Örebo Concert Hall (Rehnqvist): May 1996, Linköping Concert Hall (Crusell)
BIS-2123 [75:42]

This is a new disc of older material culled from Martin Fröst’s back catalogue, of which three are BIS items and one is licensed from Ondine.

It’s the Concerto by Anders Hillborg that comes from Ondine, a disc recorded with the collaboration of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen back in December 2001. It’s a rather fascinating work, subtitled ‘Peacock Tales’, and composed in 1998. Its opening quietude is massively deceptive because soon there are blazing glissandi and a sense of terse violence. The tautly undulating clarinet line soon embarks on a ghostly reminiscence of a very popular operatic piece (I won’t spoil the fun) at around the six-minute mark. The orchestra supplies tutti pillars at this point whilst the clarinet is busy and alertly unrelenting. The slower section provides contrast before at 11:30 a cloddish dance moves into quick-stepping comedia dell’arte , if such can be imagined. There are certainly hints of Big Bands with clarinet solo – appropriately so given the precedent of Shaw, Goodman, Herman et al and hints too of Bernsteinian scrambles in his works for jazz ensembles. The music constantly mutates and never stays the same kind of thing, later offering a chamber-sized intimacy; slow, dreamy. There is, indeed, something of the dreamlike about this work, in which episodes follow each other in a seemingly logical surrealist juxtaposition.

Vagn Holmboe’s Concerto of 1940-42 is scored for solo clarinet, two trumpets, two horns and strings. Textually the results are, predictably, very clear and precise, whilst the motifs themselves move with seamless refinement throughout the length of this 17-minute work. There is a musing cadenza for the clarinet and in the second of the two movements a sense of joy pervades the music couched in a kind of neo-classical concertante form. For much of the time the clarinet explores its more mellow register, seldom descending to chalumeau or toward its more piercing upper voices. Holmboe’s expressive beauty radiates from every bar.

Karin Rehnqvist’s On A Distant Shore, her 2002 Concerto, is a work that rejects the fast-slow-fast schema in favour of five short, named sections. This poem for clarinet and orchestra thus takes in the ruminative – in the section called The Dark – as well as the deft suggestibility of light pulsing. The scherzo-like The Wild has a brief episode of ‘laughing’ clarinet whilst the finale evocatively suggests the luring call of song to end this thoroughly atmospheric and beautifully played piece. To finish we move solidly back in time to one of the masters of the genre in the early nineteenth century, Bernhard Crusell. His Introduction, Theme and Variations on a Swedish Air, Op.12 offers virtuosic challenges full of esprit and excitement. Fröst, predictably, proves as entertaining and elegant here as in the companion works.

If you missed them first time round, this well-balanced programme, beautifully recorded, should certainly appeal.

Jonathan Woolf

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