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Lars-Erik LARSSON (1908-1986)
Symphony No.3 in C minor, Op.34 (1944-45) [35:44]
Three Orchestral Pieces, Op.49 (1960) [20:13]
Adagio for string orchestra, Op.48 (1960) [7:34]
Musica permutatio for orchestra, Op.66 (1980)
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Manze
rec. 2011, Konserthuset, Helsingborg
CPO SACD 777 673-2 [72:46]

With impeccable logic, Larsson’s Third Symphony follows his first two in Andrew Manze’s CPO Helsingborg conspectus of the orchestral music. It was first recorded in 1978 by Sten Frykberg, the man who had directed the first revival of Larsson’s Second Symphony and who had similarly given the Third its first revival in 1975. Both revivals were necessary given the composer’s decision to withdraw both works.

It was composed during 1944-45 and reverts to the four-movement scheme of his First Symphony – the Second had been cast in a three-movement, rather Berwaldian schema - which enriches its variety and breadth. There’s a real Beethovenian intent in the opening paragraphs, a driving sweeping momentum with engaging wind solos that augurs passionate declamation. But whilst not slackening exactly, Larsson soon admits a waltz-like second subject and some brass writing that hints – inadvertently, doubtless – at Rhapsody in Blue. The contrast between this fulsome and galvanizing movement and the succeeding slow movement is stark. Here one encounters veiled introspection and even Mahlerian candences, as well as ominous percussion beneath the coiled brass statements; the Nielsen lineage is veiled but persistent. The genial scherzo that follows sports a warm Andante section introduced by lissome winds – and manages to perpetuate the air of emotive instability of the symphony, which is torn hither and thither, until rounded out by a finale that revisits earlier themes, including that ‘Gershwin’ one, to the structural advantage of the symphony. Notoriously uncertain of his large scale symphonic statements as he was, it seems a shame, for both musical and psychological reasons, that Larsson went so far as to withdraw, for so long, all three of his symphonies.

The Three Orchestral Pieces of 1960 consist of two Adagio punctuated by a Presto; a vaguely Prokofiev-like solution to the question of balance. Larsson’s accommodation of twelve-tone procedure here is accomplished with a kind of lyrical translucence and the central Presto has a kind of pawky, good-natured cragginess that ushers in a Mahlerian-inflected, sustained Adagio of cumulative power. By deliberate programming this in itself leads to the Adagio for String Orchestra, Op.48, composed in the same year, and cast in a similar kind of span. Larsson’s final work was Musica permutation, written in 1980, six years before his death. It’s in several clear sections and packs a considerable amount of detail; athletic Allegro opening, brassy self-confidence, slower more revealing paragraphs, playful chuckling motifs and a rather interesting ‘walking’ theme. This is a successful work indeed, revealing formal accomplishment in paragraphal writing, contrapuntalism and decisive, attractive themes.

Supported by finely written notes, this production lives up to the previous two volumes in respect of recording quality and performance standards. It marks the end of the Larsson symphonic cycle in some considerable style.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Dan Morgan


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