Vagn Holmboe: Concertos — Neo-classical richness

Danish composer Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)  remained true to himself, throughout his career, writing the music he wanted to with little regard for academic fashion. While generally neo-classical in style, his music has a distinctive individuality to it — as this collection proves. These three concerti span a half-century, yet they collectively form a homogeneous program.

Holmboe’s Concerto for Viola is a two movement work written in 1992. Holmboe relishes the rich warmth of the viola’s lower register. Sprightly and spiky passages alternate with bursts of long, lyrical melodies. Lars Tomter’s expressive playing adds tremendously to the emotional content of this work.

Holmboe takes a different tack with his 1929 Concerto for Orchestra than Bartok does. Unlike Bartok, Holmboe doesn’t isolate the various sections of the orchestra. This is big, heroic music that revels in the blended sound of the ensemble. While there are some quiet sections that use just parts of the orchestra, they’re not showcased. Rather, the focus remains on the virtuosity of the collective whole.

The Violin Concerto No. 2 (1979) is more aggressively modern than the other works on this release. It’s not quite atonal. Rather, it’s highly chromatic music with the violin leaping and skipping about in the opening and closing sections. But the heart of the work is in the slow sections, where Holmboe lets the violin sing — and Erik Heide does indeed make his instrument do so.

While this release is available as a download, I highly recommend the SACD version — especially if you have an SACD player. These performances were lovingly recorded by DaCapo, and the fullness of the sound adds an extra dimension to these appealing works.

Vagn Holmboe: Concertos
Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra; Dima Sloboderiouk, conductor; Erik Heide, violin; Lars Anders Tomter, viola

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