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Vagn Holmboe

Three Chamber Symphonies

Lapland Chamber Orchestra/John Storgårds

Dacapo : 6.220621

A first recording of three fine, compact but substantial works by this important, prolific 20 C composer (see Bob Briggs at the bottom below on his Key Masterpieces).

These are rewarding, thoughtful and fairly compact works from 1950-70, in the symphonic tradition way of working of Sibelius, Nielsen etc. No truck with ephemeralities of mid-'20s modernism, but neither a throw-back to earlier times.

The third Frieze is in six short movements and its cover image may be by sculptor Arne L Hansen with whom Holmboe was closely associated - that is not made clear in the otherwise excellent comprehensive booklet, annotated by Jens Cornelius, with listings which even name DaCapo's proof reader (would that all labels had one of those !).

With superb production and recording by "the most northerly professiona orchestra in the European Unon", this release if warmly recommended for purchase; music which rewards relistening and getting to know thoroughly.

The chance to hear most of Holmboe's oeuvre in UK live is remote...

Peter Grahame Woolf



See below: Holmboe's violin music and key masterpieces


Holmboe's complete music for violin and pianoholmboe

Violin Sonata No.2, op.16 (1939)
Violin Sonata No.3, op.89 (1965)
Violin Sonata No.1 (1935)
Reminiscences (1990)
Violin Solo (1929)
Bagatelle No.1, Arabesque (1928)
Haiduc, op.193 (1993)

Johannes Søe Hansen (violin), Christina Bjorkoe (piano)

DACAPO 8.226063 [57 mins]

In a very long compositional career,the Danish composer Vagn Holmboe (1909 - 1996) wrote music for just about every conceivable genre, with a fastidiousness lacking in so much music written in the last 100 years.

He was a master craftsman who, once he found his style, honed it to perfection. He was a lucky man in so many ways. What we have here is Holmboe’s complete works for violin and piano, a handful of pieces which cover his whole career. Whilst only one of the works has the power and real inspiration of the 21 String Quartets or the 13 Symphonies, the Sonatas are all fine works, showing the folk music side of Holmboe; there is much gypsy fiddling in the fast movements, and there’s a wild rhythmic heart to them.

It’s interesting that although Holmboe’s style matured over the years the 1st Sonata, which is placed third for some inexplicable reason, is as strong a work as the 3rd which immediately preceeds it. It’s one of those confusing wonders as to why these Sonatas aren’t played; let’s hope that this issue makes violinists take some time to get to know them.

Haiduc is a large piece, written in bold strokes, and making a big impression. Within its mere five minutes playing time there’s a range of expression and emotion, including a playful middle section and a very enigmatic ending. The other works are trifles with no pretensions to do anything other than please.

This is a fine recital, with first rate sound and powerful performances. An excellent addition to our knowledge and understanding of this outstanding composer whose work is still all too little known.

See also Holmboe Two Piano Trios [Editor]

Vagn Holmboe: "The Key Masterpieces"

CD 1
Prelude: To the Seagulls and the Cormorants, op.174/6 (1987)
Chamber Concerto No.2, op.20 (1940)
Nuigen (Piano Trio), op.129 (1976)
Sinfonia I, op.73a (1957)
Sonata for solo cello, op.101 (1969)

CD 2
String Quartet No.4, op.63 (1949)
Requiem for Nietzsche, op.84 (1963/1964)

Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen/Giordano Bellincampi (Prelude); Danish Radio Sinfonietta/Hannu Koivula (Chamber Concerto and Sinfonia); Trio Ondine (Nuigen); Morten Zeuthen (cello) (solo sonata); Kontra Quartet (Quartet); Helge Rønning (tenor) – Johan Reuter (baritone) – Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Michael Schønwandt (Requiem)

DACAPO 8.226101/02 [TT 72:06 + 76:25]

It’s a brave man who can release two discs of a major Symphonist, and name it “Holmboe: The Key Masterpieces” when there isn’t a Symphony to be seen or heard!

Vagn Holmboe’s output was large and at its backbone were 13 Symphonies, 21 String Quartets, 3 Chamber Symphonies, 13 Chamber Concertos, some magnificent a capella choral works and much more. DaCapo hasn’t recorded any of Holmboe’s Symphonies; BIS recorded the lot with the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra under Owain Arwel Hughes.

We have one Quartet here, No.4, quite a complex work, dating from the time when he had found his style and was consolidating his position within Danish music. The excellent Kontra Quartet has recorded all 21 Quartets in superbly thought–out performances and, just as with his older Swedish contemporary, Hilding Rosenberg, who wrote a dozen Quartets, they are well worth getting to know.

The Sinfonia I is the first of four such compositions for string orchestra and they can be played either as the four Sinfonias or have the various movements arranged together to create a piece called Kairos. In its original issue the four Sinfonias, performed by Danish Radio Sinfonietta, came in a 2 disk set with the Sinfonias on one and the re-arrangement as Kairos on the other. The ten Preludes for chamber orchestra are late works, are all virtuoso pieces to play and virtuoso pieces of composition. Morten Zeuthen, the cellist of the Kontra Quartet, has a big sound, and a strength of insight lacking in many players. His performance of the Solo Cello Sonata is forthright and very passionate but he is recorded slightly too closely for my liking. The Piano Trio is a fine example of Holmboe’s late style and it’s as cogent a piece as any he wrote.

Alhough Holmboe didn’t write anything which could be considered as light music there are some pieces which seem to become lighter as the years pass. The 2nd Chamber Concerto is one of those. Scored for flute, violin, strings and percussion, there is much to enjoy; a real flight of fancy, a trip to the stars and back.

What really makes this issue exciting is the inclusion of the complete Requiem for Nietzsche for tenor, baritone, chorus and orchestra. This is a large scale work, playing for over three quarters of an hour, and it is dark and brooding with much drama, quite unlike anything I have ever heard by this composer. The vocal writing is declamatory, quite operatic in feel, and the orchestration is hard and designed to be confrontational. This is a major work which, I am sure, doesn’t get that many outings as it is too disturbing a piece and it must be difficult to put together for performance. Like the other recordings heard here, this is a magnificent performance. The Danish Radio Choir, which plays an important part, is not mentioned in the notes!

I am not quite sure who this issue is aimed at. If you’re already interested in Holmboe’s music then you will have all the CDs which feature here. If you’re thinking of dipping your toe in the Holmboe catalogue I doubt that the Requiem for Nietzsche is the right piece to get you started! That said, this is a very satisfying issue, of music by a composer who, for far too long during his lifetime, never really seemed to get a big audience outside Scandinavia, nor the coverage on recordings he deserved, so let’s not waste any more time and start listening to him.

This is music of the highest quality in fabulously dedicated performances and fine sound. There is even a libretto, with translation, for the Requiem.

Holmboe was always cited as the obvious successor to Carl Nielsen, but he told me that he disliked, indeed almost resented, the comparison. He is a true original, one to be reckoned with, who speaks to us in a modern voice but with an accent we can all understand.

Bob Briggs

P.S. It’s always good to welcome any music by Vagn Holmboe, not just because he was a fine composer, but because he was a friend of mine. It has been said that Holmboe never wrote any light music, but some of his works are lighter than others. This Duo Concertato is a case in point. Although the outward appearance is of a serious composition in three movements, the outer, fast, ones are filled with fun and they surround a heart of gold. Truly a portrait of the man himself. I loved him and miss him. BB in Music Web