Otto OLSSON (1879-1964)
Symphony in G minor, Op.11 (1901-02) [57:20]
Gävleborg Symphony Orchestra/Mats Liljefors
rec. May 1996, Ljusgården, Polhemsskolan, Gävle
STERLING CDS1020-2 [57:20]

Otto Olsson is best known for his organ works and in fact recorded as an organist. A student in Copenhagen he had the good fortune to be taken under the wing of Emil Sjörgen and in his early twenties composed his only orchestral symphony (the organ symphonies are relatively well known in their field) whose premiere he directed in 1902. It was then to lie unperformed until Stig Westerberg performed it with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1979. So, some groundwork had been laid for this 1996 recording directed by Mats Liljefors.

It may well be, as annotator Curt Carlsson suggests in his notes, that the symphony can be seen as an examination piece in counterpoint, orchestration and composition but as he also acknowledges it has some distinctive features. The brusque Beethoven-meets-Schubert opening orchestral chords are followed by an intense slow theme leading to a Schumannesque accelerando. The orchestration is actually very effective, and even at the age of 23 Olsson knew how to generate rhythmic impetus. Perhaps the rather echo-laden acoustic blunts some of these aspects but I wouldn’t say by much. Olsson has the grace to keep his instrumental choirs clear in the Scherzo and whilst others might have been tempted to muddy their writing and whilst his does, it’s true, shows some influence of Grieg, there are sportive moments for the flute and bassoon.

The heart of the symphony is the exceptionally expansive 23-minute Adagio, with its powerful organ-like sonority. Despite this, Bruckner is not the model, one feels, rather Franck, whose Symphony in D minor would, let’s not forget, have been something of a novelty still for Olsson. Occasionally, despite the elegance and richness, and the solo violin and horns’ windswept romantic calls, there is a touch of the salon about things; even, at one stage, a strikingly almost-Elgarian cadence too, presumably a result of their shared Franco-German musical inheritance. After this quietly moving and very expansive movement the finale, which embraces some fugal development, is more concise though still not simplistic.

The symphony plays for 57 minutes in this performance and there’s no coupling, but it’s a big if youthful statement in its own right and the recording is highly engaged and richly characterised. Liljefors directs with real commitment and control.

Jonathan Woolf

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