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Erland von KOCH (1910 – 2009)
Symphony No. 3, Op 38 (1952-53 rev. 1963) [23.28] Sinfonia Seria (Symphony No.4), Op.51 (1962) [20.23] Impulsi (1964) [11.17] Nordiskt Capriccio (1943) [6.21]
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Per Hammarström
rec. Berwald Hall, Stockholm, May 2011 (Symphony No 3), June 2013 (Sinfonia Seria, Impulsi), May 2010 (Nordiskt Capriccio – live recording) BIS BIS-2169 [62:48]
‘Folksy Swede, successful with children’s opera Peter, the tailless cat (1948) and Ingmar Bergman film tracks’ is Norman Lebrecht’s pithy summary of this composer in his Companion to 20thCentury Music. This CD reveals a composer of much more substance than that – the symphonies reveal a composer of deeply serious purpose and no little substance.
Erland von Koch was the son of a composer. As a young child - his father died in the Spanish flu pandemic - he heard Stenhammar and Ture Rangström, among others in his own home. By the early 1930s he had heard live the music of Shostakovich and Honegger. He studied composition with Paul Hindemith, the piano with Claudio Arrau and conducting with Clemens Krauss. Between 1943 and 1945 he worked for AB Radiotjänst as a conductor but also as producer of recordings and radio programmes. From 1953 until 1975 he taught music theory at the Royal Academy in Stockholm. His output was substantial, including six symphonies, music for ballet, chamber works as well as the music for over thirty films, including six by Ingmar Bergman.
This is a strong pedigree, and the music does not disappoint. He is often linked with his near contemporaries, Lars-Erik Larsson and Dag Wirén. On the evidence of this CD, he does not compete with the melodic skill of Larsson, though his symphonies are more substantial – at least to my ear – than those of Wirén. What he shares with these men is the influence of contemporary neo-classicism. Both symphonies recorded here, No 3 from 1948, and the Sinfonia Seria (composed 1952-1953, revised 1962), are neo-classical not only in the resources used but in their length. Both are in three movements, with a central slow movement.
Symphony No. 3 opens with a theme on the bassoon, a theme which underpins and unites all three movements. The second subject is contemplative, even elegiac – beautifully played and paced here. The second movement is serious and lyrical, while the final movement , marked Allegro agitato, is just that, ending in a brief but violent coda. The whole piece is succinct but well made.
The seriousness is even more marked in Sinfonia Seria, as the name implies. This grave and at times solemn work has its moments of energy, but the orchestration is at times bleakly sparse. The composer thought this his most important symphony and it is easy to hear why. As in Symphony No. 3, unity is given by a a single figure, this time a motif of A sharp – C – B natural. The sense of anxiety is palpable, and the music eventual dwindles in a bleak moment.
Impulsi, from 1964, I thought less interesting, but I shall return to it. After a melancholic start, there is a fast central section followed by some moments of violence – but ending again uncertainly. There is no joyful resolution here.
The only piece I had heard before, and one which has a toehold in the regular Swedish repertoire, was Nordiskt Capriccio, here recorded at a public performance. This was inspired by a folk music motif from Dalecarlia, and its mood is cheerful. Again, there is a strong sense of unity, this time provided by the return of the solo for timpani with which the piece begins.
Performances are committed throughout. Recording quality is characteristic of BIS sound, with both depth and clarity. The two symphonies are given world premiere recordings, and this is the first recording also for the conductor, Per Hammarström, who also wrote the very informative notes. This is an important addition to the discography of Swedish music, and I hope the remaining symphonies appear – preferably with these excellent forces – before too long.