Larsson series continues with strong entry

I was favorably impressed by the first volume of Lars-Erik Larsson on all counts (see Andrew Manze leads Larsson revival). The music was well-constructed, the conductor and orchestra played with authority, and the SACD recording was superb.

Volume 2 reinforces my initial impressions, while further fleshing out my understanding of this still relatively-uniknown composer. Lars-Erik Larsson may have been highly respected and influential in Sweden, but not so much outside of Scandinavia.

Larsson was never very happy with his second symphony, and withdrew it after its premier in 1937. It would not be heard again until it was performed on Swedish Radio in 1973, and reached a larger audience via its first recording in 1988 (with the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra).

I actually prefer Larsson’s second symphony to his first. The three-movement work is built on a few easily identifiable motifs, that expand outward in logical progression. It instantly engaged me, and I had no problem following the course of the music. Larsson’s straight-forward orchestration doesn’t call attention to itself, its transparency ensuring the motifs remain in the forefront of the listener’s attention (and makes them easy to follow).

Rounding out the album are two shorter orchestral works, the 1973 Barococo Suite for Orchestra, and 1962 Variations for Orchestra. Larsson experimented with different styles throughout his career. The Variations are one of his 12-tone works. But Larsson didn’t just blindly adopt Schoenberg’s system. His is a freer interpretation of dodecophonic composition, more in line with Berg (also sections reminded me of Bartok).

The neo-classical Barococo is a delightful work that has a certain joie de vivre quality. Larsson’s adaptation of earlier musical forms did little to stifle his originality. On a neo-classical musical spectrum, I’d place Barococo somewhere between Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony and Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella.”

The Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra is well familiar with Larsson’s music with authority (see above), and so is Andrew Manze. And that familiarity makes all the difference in these performances, I think. Larsson wrote three symphonies, so I’m assuming there will be at least one more volume in this series. I can’t wait.

Lars-Erik Larsson: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2
Symphony No. 2 op. 17; Variations for Orchestra, Op. 50; Barococo, Sutie for Orchestra, op. 64
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Manze, conductor
CPO 777672-2 SACD


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