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Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-96)
Preludes for Sinfonietta - Vol. 2

Prelude No. 6 To the seagulls and the cormorants (1987)
Prelude No. 9 To the calm Sea (1991)
Prelude No. 1 To a pine tree (1986)
Prelude No. 7 To the pollution of nature (1989)
Prelude No. 4 To a willow tree (1987)
Sonata for Trombone and piano (1987)
Music with Horn (1981)
Jesper Juul Sørensen (trombone)
Anne Mehter Stæhr (piano)
Thomas Ekman (hirn)
Anne Søe Iwan (violin)
Athelas Sinfonietta, Copenhagen/Giordano Bellincampi
rec Lyngby Park Kapel. 30 May-6 June 1999, 2 Sept 2000
DACAPO 8.224124 [50.43]

At last the second volume arrives. The first volume is reviewed elsewhere on this site.

The ten Sinfoniettas, completed between 1986 and 1971, are late works from Holmboe's pen. He seems to have scaled down his expression in his wintry years though he was never a composer of obstreperously over-generous length or texture. The Sinfoniettas are for chamber orchestra and are dedicated to the great music critic Robert Layton. These gem-brilliant miniatures recall the busy diamond clarity of Martinu (try To a Pine Tree) in neo-classical mood though there is no drought of emotional 'juice'.

Interestingly To the calm sea is not the static reflection I expected. The flickering light and movement suggest a vision piercing the calm surface and taking in the swirling activity of plankton, wrack and fish shoals. The buzz of movement also typefies the Seagull and Cormorant work. The storm clouds enfold the scene in To the Pollution of Nature. This writing catches vernal freshness and chlorophyll but hints at the decay induced by air and waterborne chemicals.

These miniatures are not overblown or garrulous. If anything they exemplify economy of expression. They stand in the line of perfection achieved by Bonsai cultures. Indeed the music sometimes veers into the chinoiserie of fellow Scandinavian Fernstrom.

To fill out the disc we get two works with prominent roles for brass instruments. A string pianist, unblinkingly recorded, is called for and is provided. In the case of the Music with Horn this work would make a good partner for the Brahms, Holbrooke or Berkeley Horn Trios. The Trombone work allows for a cantorial role and the instrument is very much the singer not the clown. Once again I note spiritual parallels with Alan Hovhaness. The Horn work is the oldest on the disc and is also the most fractured with tribute to the tone-prickly Epitaphs rather than to the singing neo-classicism of the Preludes.

This is another invaluable gain to the Holmboe discography. We certainly now need to have the Nietzsche Requiem. Although there has, for several years, been talk of such a recording nothing has so far transpired.

Rob Barnett


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