I think it must be frustrating to be a one-hit wonder — especially in the field of classical music. Swedish composer Dag Wirén wrote five symphonies, three concertos, five string quartets, nine film scores, several ballets. Yet most orchestras only program one of his works — the Serenade for Strings.
The work was dashed off quickly, and in a good performance, that sense of spontaneity comes through. Ruman Gamba and Iceland Symphony Orchestra give the Serenade a good performance.
Gamba uses the full orchestral string section. The work is often recorded with a chamber orchestra, and the difference in sound is noteworthy. While still light and breezy, the substance of the string sound makes it seem less of a throwaway piece. And — for those of us who’ve heard the Serenade too often — it offers a fresh take on this classic.
The Sinfonietta, Op. 7a started life as part of Wiren’s second symphony. The symphony was withdrawn, and two of the movements were reworked into the Sinfonietta. It’s an intense, compact work that with a strong sense of drama. Wiren’s melodies may have echoes of Grieg and Scandinavia, but they’re faint. The Sinfonietta seems to lean more towards Prokofiev than Nielsen.
Wiren withdrew his first symphony and completely rewrote his second. He seemed to hit his stride with Symphony No. 3. Wiren handles his material with confidence. The themes are memorable, and the entire work seems to flow organically from start to finish. There are a few passages where I could tell this was the same person who composed the Serenade. But I could also tell this was a composer who had grown in mastery.
Also included is Wiren’s 1957 Divertimento. It’s a more substantial work than the title suggests.
Ruman Gamba writes, “I was surprised that the music of Wirén was just as unknown [in Sweden] as it was in the UK… Convinced that Wirén must have composed some other fine music [than the Serenade], I had the opportunity to suggest his Third Symphony for a concert… a performance which persuaded me to think about a whole CD of his music.”
Gamba was right. Wiren did compose some other fine music.
Dag Wirén: Orchestral Works
Symphony No. 3, Op. 20; Serenade, Op. 11; Divertimento, Op. 29; Sinfonietta, Op. 7a in C major
Iceland Symphony Orchestra; Ruman Gamba, conductor
Chandos CHSA 5194