Vagn Holmboe: Chamber Symphonies
Lapland Chamber Orchestra
John Storgards, conductor
I wasn’t that familiar with Vagn Holmboe’s
music before I received this collection of his chamber symphonies. But
after listening to them for a while, I would definitely like to explore
the repertoire of this Danish composer further.
Written in 1951, the first of Holmboe’s three chamber symphonies shows a
composer in full command of his material. 1 somewhat spare and lean at
the beginning, building inexorably as it moves towards its big climax at
near the end of the work, before finishing quietly with a reappearance
of material from the opening movement.
The second chamber symphony is subtitled “Elegy.” Overall it’s a quiet,
atmospheric work. Holmboe makes effective use of mallet percussion
instruments, especially the vibraphone, which brings a hint of
unearthliness to the mix. Holmboe was a conservative composer, using a
primarily tonal language, but the somber harmonies and downward-turning
chromatic melodic motifs almost sound atonal.
Holbmoe’s third chamber symphony, “Frise” is actually an orchestration
of a choral work of the same name. Both were written to commemorate the
unveiling a new frieze at a school. Although technically an occasional
work, it’s much more substantial than just a “grand opening” fanfare.
Holmboe digs deep into the ensemble, bringing instruments to the fore in
groups of two and three to spotlight a melody. It’s a kaleidoscope of
instrumental timbres changing in slow motion. The work has six
movements, which, with a playing time of about 20 minutes, gives it a
somewhat episodic quality and sounding very different in character than
the first two works on the disc.
John Storgards leads the Lapland Chamber Orchestra in a compelling
reading of these works. The performances sound fresh and engaging –
even more so when played on an SACD player.