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Niklas SIVELOV (b. 1968)
Symphony No 3 (Primavera) (2018) [22:25]
Five Pieces for String Orchestra (2016) [18:09]
Sinfonietta per archi (Symphony No 4) (2019) [22:35]
Malmo Opera Orchestra/Joachim Gustafsson
rec. Opera House, Malmo, May 2020

The music of the Swedish composer Niklas Sivelov leaves an oddly mixed impression. Its angular dissonances and dominant rhythmic drive tag it as unequivocally "contemporary." On the other hand, it reflects various mid-twentieth-century styles, making it seem curiously dated as well!

The Third Symphony, Primavera, doesn't sound like any musical spring I'd previously heard - certainly not Vivaldi's or Schumann's. Much of the score - including reposeful bits, like the first movement's string chorale - is disturbed and dissonant, though it always moves with a sure sense of shape and purpose. Stylistically, it resembles a post-World War II symphony, save for the consistent, heavy deployment of the brasses, even in rhythmically buoyant passages. The breadth of the central Adagio offers some aural relief after the first movement; its climactic chord launches the bustling, active Allegro molto finale, built from short motifs and rising to a very irregular fugue.

The Five Pieces for String Orchestra are Neoclassical. The cheerful, mildly dissonant busyness in the quicker movements reminded me of Dumbarton Oaks; so did the Finale's irregular meters. But Stravinsky isn't the only influence we hear: there are echoes of Satie and Menotti in the poised, eerie Valse triste, while the central Allegro molto's cheerful pizzicatos suggest - gasp! - Leroy Anderson.

The Sinfonietta per archi, unfortunately, draws from the more mannered veins of mid-century style: the first movement includes a few odd hand claps, presumably from unoccupied players, and the closing Scherzo takes in bits of "the squeaky stuff" from the high violins. The schizophrenic opening, an ostensible passacaglia, doesn't actually state the entire theme until about nine minutes in - ingenious, perhaps, but hard to discern purely by ear. The central Choral, searching and disturbed, fares best, despite a ragged, soft-edged starting attack. The Scherzo improves once the music becomes active and driving.

Under Gustafsson's leadership, the orchestra plays with confidence and polish - the strings handle the irregular scansions of the Five Pieces with particular assurance. The recorded sound in the Symphony is vivid, though the bright, wind-dominated opening sounds almost electronic. The string-orchestra pieces are more obviously ambient - the Five Pieces would have come off even better in a drier acoustic. The bass reproduction in the Sinfonietta is imposing.

Stephen Francis Vasta

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