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Symphony No. 1 in C minor op. 7 (1897) [41:18]
Symphony No. 2 in D major op. 43 (1923) [36:56]
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Terje Mikkelsen
rec. Reforma Baznika, Riga, 31 July-1 August 2008. hybrid SACD. DDD STERLING CDS1084-2SACD [78:14]
Eyvind Alnęs is known principally for his songs but the premiere recordings of his two symphonies back in 2009 expanded knowledge of his competence over a wider canvas. Competence sounds rather dismissive but in fact it certainly applies in the best sense to his confident handling of symphonic form. Unavoidably, for the time and place, he looked to the model established by Tchaikovsky, and in particular the Fourth with which it shares definite thematic similarities. The music’s physiognomy also takes in elements of Tchaikovsky’s orchestration, notably lower strings and horns, though the heavy Iberian-sounding theme in the first movement is a novelty. The notes claim that the Adagio is ‘perhaps the most beautiful slow movement ever written by a Nordic composer’ and that’s some claim, though the strategically employed ‘perhaps’ saves me from pointing out several I’d place higher. Notwithstanding this, it does have a distinctive melancholic colour, and a very beautiful string tune that is attuned strongly to Nordic-Russian sensibility. Nordic composers of an earlier generation routinely looked to Mendelssohn for sprite-infested Scherzi but Alnęs prefers a heavier-booted affair, confidently laid out. This symphonic confidence leads into a finale that enshrines an insistent March theme, sturdy, and striding onward very much like his exemplar to a triumphant close.
The Second Symphony begins seemingly on the wing, in media res, with a brimming-with-elation element. Brass calls are strongly hewn and the rhythm is sturdily effective as in the finale of the First Symphony. The second movement’s funeral march is buttressed by tolling and resonant brass calls, a lamenting eleven minutes full of percussive drama. In total contrast the Scherzo is pert and pretty with a romantically elongated B section. It’s clear that this Symphony is strongly characterised on a movement-by-movement basis but as to whether, or how well, it hangs together is a different question. Alnęs seems to conjure up the Ride of the Valkyries for his finale though it seems it’s more a Halling motif, and this encoded folkloric element gets progressively jollier, infusing the music with roistering élan.
The notes are characteristically first class and so too are the performances. Both these symphonies are highly enjoyable, though the First is the more structurally convincing achievement.
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