Synnove Solbakken En Bygedesa
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In his native Sweden Hugo Alfven' music ranks as the most significant after that of Berwald. The music on this disc consists of two suites drawn from films that Alfven scored during the 1930s and 1940s. Both Suites draw on folk-tunes to evoke the count
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Willén and the Norköpping players give more than decent performances, but takes an in general unsentimental approach, and the sound quality is a little close. The alternative from Frank and Damgaard on Sterling presents the same selection from En Bygdesaga but a shortened Synnöve Solbakken (Sterling drops two of the longest but less interesting numbers), but the performances are consistently a little faster and more involved. But Sterling doesn't give us any coupling - the Elégie for Emil Sjögren is a actually a tone-poem to the (in Sweden) famous lieder and song writer also incorporated in the Gustav II Adolph Suite. It is an interesting work with several interesting harmonic touches as it moves from a more distanced homage to a more personal utterance (the idea seems to have been in the first part to acknowledging Sjögren as an artist and in the second part as a personal friend). If you want or need the longer Synnöve Solbakken suite, this is the recording to go for, but I wouldn't dismiss the Sterling issue (insofar as the Emil Sjögren elegie is available elsewhere). The music is anyway worth hearing, and there is nothing serious to complain about with this issue.
The first of these is a suite made from the music he wrote for 'Synnøve Solbakken', a 1934 film taken from the novel of the same name by the great Swedish writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. It is about the gentle Synnøve and her love for Torbjörn who has been paralyzed by a fight with a family rival. When he sees his father trapped in a cart accident he suddenly regains his ability to walk and thus save his father. Alfvén's music uses Norwegian folk-tunes and in general the tone of the entire suite is one of longing, gentleness, poignancy, occasionally enlivened by folk-dances. This almost half-hour suite is filled with lovely melodies and suave orchestration played by the Norrköping Symphony under Niklas Willén, a conductor who appears to making a specialty of Alfvén's music.
The second film suite, taken from music for 'Mans kvinna' (literally, 'Man's Woman') but better known by its alternate title 'En Bygdesaga' ('A Country Tale'), is altogether more dramatic in nature. The film is about a woman, Märit, unhappily married to a farmer, Påvel, and in love with a younger farmer, Håkan. When the husband learns, via their maid, of his wife's longing, he puts her under lock and key under the pretext that she is his 'property.' She eventually gets free and elopes with her lover. Although the music is quality Alfvén, the film was not a success and the suite itself has been less popular than that from 'Synnøve Solbakken.' In my judgment, however, it is a stronger work and I found myself transfixed throughout its entire 33 minute length, particularly by Alfvén's depiction of both longing and jealousy.
The CD is filled out by 'Elégie (vid Emil Sjögrens bår)' ('Elegy, at Emil Sjögren's Funeral'), a twelve-minute tribute to Sjögren, Alfvén's older colleague, a composer and organist of local note. The music is a slow, treading, euphonious piece in which a grief-stricken chorale is briefly interrupted by a lyrical consolatory second theme which then transforms the grief of the first theme into a benediction.
This issue is another triumph in this continuing series and I strongly recommend it, although for those coming to Alfvén's music for the first time I would probably suggest they start with one of the performances of some of the symphonies. I would suggest Alfvén: Symphony No. 5; Andante religioso or Alfvén: Symphony No. 4 "From the Outermost Skerries". Of course, for those who don't already know the 'Swedish Rhapsody' I recommend Alfvén: Orchestral Works, Vol.1