Symphony No.5 Andante Religi
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A gifted musician, writer and watercolourist, Hugo Alfven is regarded in his native Sweden as the most significant composer after Berwald. The Fifth Symphony occupied Alfven throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and draws on themes from his ambitious 1923 balle
Four Stars -- Audiophile Audition, October 2007
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The symphony is in four movements. The first begins with a slow introduction that leads into a sonata allegro movement with contrasting first and second themes -- the first sprightly, if somewhat grotesque, followed by a rhapsodic lyrical theme. The entire introduction and exposition are repeated exactly before leading into a development that emphasizes the grotesquerie of the first theme. The recapitulation is an almost literal repeat of the exposition, but with the order of the themes reversed, and a long coda that sounds like a rewriting of the slow introduction. The ending of the movement is abrupt, a bit of a surprise. The mood of this entire twenty minute movement is one of uneasiness. (It reminds me at times of similar passages in the fourth symphonies of both Vaughan Williams and Sibelius). The second movement, an Andante, begins with vaguely musing low strings which evolve into a gently serene main melody. There is an agitato middle section before the lyrical theme returns to end the movement. The third movement, Lento - Allegro - Presto molto agitato, opens similarly to the second (a whole tone lower) but quickly becomes a danse macabre that prominently features xylophone and sarcastic Mahlerian brass. There is some similarity of mood to the two Nachtmusik movements of Mahler's Seventh Symphony with a dollop of malice. (One is reminded of the similar movement in Walton's First Symphony.) The finale, Allegro con brio, almost as long as the first movement, is altogether more lyrical and rhapsodic than anything preceding it. This movement, too, is a sonata-allegro and the working out of the development is particularly effective. The recapitulation reprises the majestic opening theme and the symphony ends on what could be considered a positive note. One wonders if there is an unstated program to this symphony. It is easy to imagine Alfvén was guided by some sort of narrative thread.
The disc ends with the brief -- three minutes -- Andante religioso which is Alvén's re-orchestration for harp, celesta and strings of an intermezzo from his 1913 'Revelation Cantata'. It is beautiful, but one has to feel it is anticlimactic after the turbulence and power of the symphony.
One cannot say enough positive about the performance of the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra. This provincial Swedish orchestra plays with real fervor and skill; they clearly feel this music deeply. Much of the credit must go to Niklas Willén, a fortyish Swedish conductor whose recordings, including this one, are impressive indeed. The atmospheric painting on the cover of the CD's booklet captures the mood of the symphony and one notes with surprise that it was painted by August Strindberg!
I have no problem giving this CD a vigorous thumbs-up. For those of you who know only Alfvén's 'Swedish Rhapsody', this symphony will come as a revelation.
For this issue, Willén leads the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra (the series keep the conductor, but varies the orchestras), and the performances are superb - I think this is the one issue where the performances are fully on par with the performances in the Järvi cycle for BIS - Willén is slower overall, but he never lets it drag and the approach is certainly as satisfying as Järvi's somewhat more darkly frenzied approach. The playing is colorful, confident and quite dramatic, and Willén manages to make the symphony as coherent as possible, I think. The sound quality is also quite excellent; glowingly warm, with perspective and room. The coupling is an interestingly scored, gentle but inconsequential Andante Religioso, also worth hearing but nothing more.