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Hugo ALFVÉN (1872-1960)
En bygdesaga, suite from the music for the film Mans kvinna, Op.53 [26.55]
Synnöve Solbakken, Op.50: excerpts [12.22]
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Hans-Peter Frank (Bygdesaga)
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Harry Dausgaard (Synnöve)
rec. Hörsalen, Norrköping, 31 August 1973 (Synnöve), Helsingborg Concert Hall, 29 November 1982 (Bygdesaga)
STERLING CDS-1012-2 [45:09]

At the time these recordings were originally made, the music of Hugo Alfvén (apart from his popular and ubiquitous Swedish Rhapsody No 1) was almost unknown outside his native Sweden; the Gramophone catalogue for 1979 lists only the brief Elegy from the incidental music to King Gustav Adolf II as available on disc apart from a couple of issues of the rhapsody. Now, 35-45 years later, the music of Alfvén has a much higher profile. Archiv currently lists 71 recordings including no fewer than four more or less complete cycles of his five symphonies, which generally come in couplings with most of his other orchestral music. But his film music remains relatively neglected; the current listings only show one other recording of the two scores here, a Naxos release from 2007 which was well received by critics at the time including Patrick Waller for this site (review).

Not that the scores for these films are really great music, certainly not as worthwhile as the symphonies and other orchestral works available from other sources, although it is undeniably attractive. Alfvén actually wrote music for three films, but the last of these – that for a French-Swedish co-production of Singoalla – was constructed from other pieces by the composer, who at the time was suffering from a rheumatic illness which physically prevented him from writing a completely new score. The booklet notes for this issue devote a considerable amount of space to a not altogether complimentary description of the Singoalla setting, which seems a pity when we are denied sufficient detail on the dramatic situations described in the other two suites here, with not even English translations of the titles of the individual movements.

It is also perhaps unfortunate that the CD cover describes the music simply as ‘Orchestral Suites’ when the title ‘Film music’ would have given a better idea of its contents, and would possibly have attracted a wider field of potential purchasers. Most of the scores seem to be designed as underpinning for film dialogue, with the various cues (described here curiously as “complexes”) strung together to produce longer individual movements. Of these the most effective is the love music for the doomed hero and heroine in Mans kvinna, but even this is generally subdued and never rises to any great emotional heights. The orchestral playing too is efficient rather than showing any degree of passionate commitment. The Norrköping players in 1973 sound considerably less assured than when they came to re-record the Synnöve Solbakken suite for Willén over thirty years later.

Willén’s Naxos recording is moreover considerably more substantial; the recording of Synnöve Solbakken comes in at over fifteen minutes longer than the suite here, since Willén gives us more music. In fact the track listing on this older recording reveals that the second and third movements are omitted entirely, a fact ignored by the booklet notes. Since the duration of the CD is consequently very short measure by modern standards, and Willén adds other incidental music to his disc, that Naxos release is clearly the issue which will attract Alfvén’s growing band of followers. This Sterling reissue, valuable as it would have been at the time of its original release, is now simply a non-starter. The booklet notes by Carl-Gunnar Ĺhlén come in Swedish and English.

Paul Corfield Godfrey



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