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.
Vagn Holmboe: Chamber Symphonies
Lapland Chamber Orchestra ; John Storgards, conductor