In the decades which have smiled on the lost and the obscure, the Swedish composer Torbjörn Lundquist's singing inspiration has been little sung. As Mike Herman (whose national discographies have long been such a valuable contribution to this site) has reported, Lundquist was born in Stockholm and studied composition with Wirén at Uppsala. Much later he pursued conducting with Otmar Suitner. It was as a conductor that Lundquist forged a career, not that this seems to have held him back from his own activities as a composer.
Lundquist wrote nine symphonies, which are still paid little attention. The unrecorded symphonies are numbers 2 (1956-70), 5 (1980), 6 Sarek (1988), 8 Kroumata (1989-92) and 9 Survival, in one movement (1996). Add to these an assortment of concertos, including a violin concerto recorded on Bluebell LP and CD by Karel Sneberger¸ 28 film scores and songs. The recorded symphonies include No. 1 (1956, rev. 1971) B. Tommy Andersson/Umeå SO on Bluebell ABCD 072; No. 3 Dolorosa (1971-5) Peter Maag/Stockholm PO on Artemis ART 50-104 (LP) (1978); and No.7 Humanity - Dag Hammarskjöld in Memoriam (1990) Sixten Ehrling/Swedish RSO on Caprice CAP 21419 (1992). To date this site has reviewed a Sterling disc that happened to include some of his songs, but that is about it.
The label tells us that this pair of recordings - unusually ADD - were made by Swedish Radio for broadcast. I am not sure if they ever made it to air. That said it is a matter of jubilation that these two symphonies - one about half-an-hour long and the other three-quarters of an hour - and written within ten years of each other, are now in easily accessible circulation. Peter Maag had already recorded the Sinfonia Dolorosa for Artemis vinyl in 1975 but this decently-filled CD offers a fresh-faced Dolorosa alongside the much longer Ecologica.
Unsurprisingly, it is the first disc to allow the listener to hear two of Lundquist's unfashionably tonal symphonies - well, certainly 'unfashionable' for the 1980s. Sterling do not hold back in seeming to be at ease with putting out this disc as part of its 'Modern' series. Its very accessibility reminds the listener that Modern does not necessarily tell us anything useful about the soundworld adopted. These two symphonies date from more than thirty years ago so in what sense are they 'Modern'?
Of the two symphonies - each in a single movement - the Third Symphony was written between 1971 and 1975. It does not 'feel' specifically dolorous in any conventional sense and cleaves to a more extreme language. Even then it is not especially demanding on the listener's receptors. Its speech is a sort of tortured melodramatic vehemence - between say Henze and middle period Stravinsky. Yes, it is the more extreme of the two symphonies but it is not desperately hard work. It has more variety and a rapid flow of incidents that exceeds the symphonies of fellow Swede, Allan Pettersson. There is birdsong, expostulation and surreal veils of colour. Hollywood-like surreal pilgrimage grips the piece and Lundquist makes sensational use of the orchestra to this end. The textures are pretty transparent and airy. The ideas and their exposition are fantastic but a 'plotline' is not readily discernible on several hearings - at least not to me. What does jut out is Lundquist's gift for horn-lofted heroism, as at 18:00 onwards. At these moments Lundquist sounds like Rubbra Symphony No. 4 or Soliloquy or Lennox Berkeley's short but very effective 1940s orchestral piece Nocturne. A sense of tragedy is suggested without the mood becoming overwrought. It was this work that 'made' Lundquist's reputation. The dolorous aspect is linked to the death of his first wife, Maud. The symphony was premiered in September 1976 by the Malmö SO conducted by Janos Fürst.
A radio interview, which was taken down in 1979 while he was writing the Fourth Symphony, lays some claim to ecology being an igniting spark in the work's inspiration. It lost its ecological title at the first performance in October 1985. This recording looks as if it preserves the premiere or more likely, given the absence of applause and audience noise, was made very shortly before or after the premiere. The piece starts purposefully with bells and timpani like the kinetic assault to be found in the symphonies 4 and 6 by Imants Kalnins. Lundquist's music is often fast but grave and determined rather than there being any sense of clowning about. It's brilliant in its orchestration but also in its choice and laying out and sequencing of ideas. Parts of it (17:49) suggest Walton and there's a sure-footed Waltonian quality to the solo violin section around 24:00. Hollywood lyricism soon takes centre-stage (27:00, 28:30, 30:47) - this might almost be Franz Waxman. Protest is not the emotion that asserts itself in these pages unless it is to hymn the joys of nature and show us what is at stake. I suggest that, rather as is the case with Adolfs Skulte's Third Symphony Cosmic (1963) and Seventh Symphony Protect Nature (1981), you follow the irresistible musical lines. These are deliciously lush and towards the end syncopated. Avoid any temptation to find a political undertow. Howard Hanson at his most romantic with an infusion of Sibelius's Sixth Symphony and Valentin Silvestrov's Fifth Symphony can be glimpsed here. The symphony, at the close, echoes in sweetness 'The Great Gate of Kiev' and ends by delivering a one-off hammer-impact.
The extended booklet notes are in Swedish and English and the latter fall into useful life and works essays by Dag Lundquist, Curt Carlsson and Elisabeth Wärnfeldt. The English section runs to twenty pages and do English speakers a great service by placing and detailing Lundquist. It evens sets out a list of works and discography. The performances feel utterly engaged and the recordings are seemingly faithful and brilliant servants in bringing these two symphonies to our ears and minds. I hope that there are more.
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