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Format: Audio CD
The twelve pieces for various solo instruments and chamber orchestra, bearing the simple titles Concerto No. 1-12, that Vagn Holmboe wrote between 1939 and 1950 are key works in the Danish composer's development, consolidating a neoclassical style with the slighest of influences from other modernist trends. The inspiration of Sibelius and the "metamorphosis" technique are not yet in evidence, but Holmboe had already established a careful balance in his music and a very distinctive approach to orchestration.
This disc from 1996 was the first volume in Dacapo's complete cycle of these concertos. Hannu Koivula leads the Danish Radio Concert Orchestra with soloists Anne Øland (piano), Mikkel Futtrup (violin), Tim Fredriksen (viola) and Niels Ullner (cello).
The Concerto No. 4 op. 30 (1942-45) is a triple concerto, scored for piano trio and chamber orchestra. Though only 16 minutes long, this is a rich work. On one hand there is a flowing quality that makes me draw comparisons with the Baroque and Bach's own famous triple concerto. On the other hand, it occasionally rises to the grandeur of Holmboe's symphonies. The piece is cast in three movements "Allegro non troppo, ma con brio", "Andante un poco tranquillo" and "Allegro decido", a fast-slow-fast form that would continue through the other works on this disc.
The viola is the solo instrument of the Concerto No. 5. op. 31 (1943), and the orchestration consists of double winds (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet and horn), strings and timpani. The first movement is in straightforward neo-classical chugging along. The most distinctive movement, however, is the long central one. Appropriate for the darkest days of World War II, the overall effect is of desolation, and the timpani and low strings lend it a gloomy martial quality. It's one of the most frightening spectacles in all Holmboe's music, and surprising to hear from a composer known for avoiding emotional extremes. The third movement doesn't bring us back to entirely sunnier territory, but there is a sense of resoluteness against the odds. The violist plays some fine folk-inflected material.
The Concerto No. 6 op. 33 (1943) has exactly the same scoring as the sixth, except that its solo instrument is a violin.The higher range of the violin makes the opening movement of the work, marked "Andante -- Allegro con brio", initially seem luminous after the viola piece. However, the second movement "Andante tranquillo" is a slow and tragic passacaglia, where gradually grows in orchestration, though its rooting in strings along give it an austere feel. The final movement "Allegro molto" opens with a solo passage inspired by the Nordic fiddling tradition and is soon joined by the entire orchestra in all its colourful timbres, in dance rhythms. The mood is darkened by a sorrowful interlude midway through the piece, whose pensive nature persists, but everything comes together for a fine ending.
Dacapo wasn't the only label to take on Holmboe's chamber concertos. BIS also recorded several of them with the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes (1, 2, 3), though none of these three. After hearing Holmboe in BIS's spaciousness, Dacapo's merely average sound can be a little disappointing. The standard of these three pieces is very high, however, and anyone interested in Holmboe's music should get this.