Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-1996)
Solo & chamber works for guitar
Sonata No. 1 Op. 141 (1979) [15.40]
Sonata No. 2 Op. 142 (1979) [11.31]
Five Intermezzi Op. 149 (1981) [10.01]
Duo Concertato** Op. 167 (1986) [8.24]
Parlare del Più e del meno Op. 176 (1988) [10.57]
Canto e Danza Op. 191* (1992) [8.30]
Seven Folk Ballads* (1983) [6.17]
Jesper Siveboek (guitar); Bolette Roed (recorder)*; Johannes Søe
rec. Royal Danish Academy of Music Concert Hall, March, July 2011, February
DACAPO 8.226143 [71.20]
Vagn Holmboe never did things by halves. Once he
set himself on a course of chamber concertos, string quartets or guitar
music nothing deflected him until he felt he had run the gauntlet of
options and techniques. None of this music dates from before 1979 when
he was 70 at which point he set off exploring the guitar first purely
soloistically then in an ensemble on and off for the next 13 years.
This is the first complete disc of Holmboe’s guitar works but
back in 1983 the earliest of the works that is the two sonatas and Intermezzi
appeared on LP played by Maria Kammerling. It hasn’t been a record
that I’ve often played although I mostly love Holmboe’s
music. To a certain extent I felt that these late works did little more
than simply tread water, playing with those eastern European scales
which are commonly found in Holmboe’s music and which he studied
as a young man in Rumania and Hungary.
The First Sonata falls into five movements and is the longest
work on the disc. It has a central skilfully written fugato and ends
in a highly rhythmic Rondo. One feels that Holmboe is to a certain extent
feeling his way in this work whereas in the Second Sonata, written
immediately afterwards, he is more succinct and the lines have a greater
cantabile feel. In addition he only offers us Italian terms, more classically
- as Per Rasmussen says in his detailed booklet notes - orientated movements
opening with a moderato and ending with a spikey Allegro. The First
Sonata has passages which appear to me to be note-spinning. As much
as I love Holmboe’s music and indeed have known it for over thirty
years, as a prolific composer one expects that there will passages and
indeed pieces that just mark time. The Second Sonata however
seems more compact and in fact more organically composed. Technically
it is more in the style of Holmboe’s better known chamber music
and symphonies although the sound-world of these two sonatas is very
The LP, despite its warm sound, rather short-changed the buyer with
less than forty minutes of music. Maria Kammerling also included the
Five Intermezzi compiled two years after the sonatas. The wonderful
Eleventh Symphony appearing in between. Kammerling’s performance
has vitality and strength but then so has this new one although I rather
prefer the former. You might wonder why Holmboe didn’t name it
‘Sonata 3’. I suspect that it might be because the last
movement, which is the longest, is actually based around a Spanish lullaby
melody. Also, with its use of percussive effects, the composer probably
felt a sort of disparity between the five sections. At any rate in theory
you could play just one Intermezzo alone but there is some interlinking
of material and a decided homogeneity.
Using the guitar as an ensemble instrument was the next development.
Before going on to the next work chronologically, we can move to 1988
and meet Parlare del Piu del Meno, (‘To talk about
this and that’) his last solo guitar piece. By then Holmboe had
honed down his language even more as he did in the Twelfth Symphony.
This five movement suite packs much into its ten minutes. It’s
an attractive work but does not take Holmboe’s guitar writing
much further except for the very flexible time signatures and an ingenious
The ideas assembled for the Duo Concertato are
evenly split between the guitar and violin. Each of the three parts
is initially marked liberamente, which segue - bet you can’t
hear the join! - first into an Andantino, next an Andante
con moto (vintage Holmboe) and finally an Allegro con brio.
Chippings from the workshop, yes, but each perfectly formed.
I mentioned at the top of this review that Holmboe had an interest in
folk music. This applied throughout his long life, so that the last
two works, both for recorder and guitar, are inspired by folk melodies.
The Canto e Danza,as the title implies, uses a
Spanish melody. Perhaps Holmboe, living in cold Northern climes had
a hankering for sunny Mediterranean air. The main tune is not stated
until the end of the third section. All four are not only very brief
but also loosely based on the theme, which is a Harvest song. The Seven
Folk Ballads are arrangements and harmonisations of melodies
from England, France, the Ukraine and Denmark. Four are French, including,
rather charmingly, the encore. The English one is a version of The
Three Ravens often attributed to Thomas Ravenscroft (d.1635).
The performances by everyone but especially by the star Jesper Siveboek,
appear flawless and the recording ideal.
This is an enchanting collection and any lover of Holmboe and all guitarists
will want to have it.