Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

VAGN HOLMBOE (1909-96)
Preludes for Sinfonietta:-
No. 10 To the Unsettled Weather (1991)
No. 5 To a Living Stone (1987)
No. 8 To the Victoria Embankment (1990)
No. 3 To a Maple Tree (1986)No. 2 To a Dolphin (1986)
Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen/Giordano Bellincampi
rec 7-11 Sept 1998, Lyngby Park Kapel
DA CAPO 8.224123 [50.02]
   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Before reviewing this wonderful disc, I would like to quote from the sleeve note as follows:

"The spirit of folk culture played an important role in the music of the Danish composer Vagn Holmhoe (1909-96). As was the case with Bela Bartók, folklore studies contributed significantly to his compositional process. Holmboe was the most influential Danish composer of the generation after Carl Nielsen and his large output includes 13 symphonies, chamber concertos, and many fine string quartets."

I have quoted this as, if one picks up this disc and reads the comment above displayed on the rear of the disc, one might not be prepared for the inventiveness and sheer classiness of the writing of this composer.

As the BIS series of Symphonies has proved, Vagn Holmboe is a composer to be reckoned with and I would place him in the upper echelons of his contemporaries. This Dacapo disc is one which you should really make an effort to hear, as its inventiveness, is exceptional.

It is also heartwarming to notice that it is Volume 1 - presumably there will be more from this stable in the not too distant future. These preludes, of which there are 10 in total, were dedicated to Robert Layton, who has championed Holmboe's music for many years, and has been largely responsible for the composer's exposure in the UK.

Each of the Preludes carries a title, and so could be thought of as short programme pieces. What Vagn Holmboe has done here is to produce individual pieces conjuring up the atmosphere of the piece rather than a pictorial representation.

The first class booklet explains in very full detail what is being worked through in each piece, and rather than regurgitate this here I would like to describe my response to these works whilst reviewing them. I did not have a score with me so was unable to judge how accurate the playing of the Athelas Sinfonietta is. I can report however that their playing of these works gave nothing but pleasure and they sounded very good indeed. One must discount their photograph in the booklet, showing most of them lying on the grass in some indeterminate place, whilst the photograph has been taken by a photographer up a tree, part of which is visible in the picture - very strange!

Dacapo are building an extremely interesting catalogue of modern and not so modern Danish music, with occasional excursions into other Scandinavian countries and Northern Europe. They are to be congratulated on their enterprise, and this issue deserves to have a wide circulation. I enjoyed it very much. I need not mention that the recording quality is first rate.

John Phillips

See also review by Rob Barnett

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