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Alwyn, Grace Williams, Arnold, Wordsworth. Searle, Joubert

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Tor AULIN (1866-1914)
Four Swedish Dances, Op. 26 [21:46]
Three Dances from Gotland, Op. 28 [13:45]
Master Olof, Op. 22 [30:28]
WDR Radio Orchestra, Cologne/Niklas Willén
rec. 12-14 January, 2011, WDR, Klaus-von-Bismarck-Saal, Cologne
CPO 777 775-2 [65:59]

Tor Aulin was a Swedish violinist-composer who wrote beguiling, folksy music and then died in a really horrible fashion at the age of 47. We have here two sets of charming, tuneful dances and the incidental music to a play, Master Olof. The Swedish Dances and Three Dances from Gotland (a sizeable island in the Baltic Sea) have rustic cheer, a firm rhythmic stamp, an abundance of good tunes, and much folkloric color. They’re a little less concise than comparable dances by Brahms or Dvorák, and consistently cheery, but a whole lot of fun. The first dance from Gotland is especially harmonically spicy. Think of the dance sets by Grieg and you have the right basic idea.
Master Olof is a slightly different story. The orchestration is still splashy, with lots of tunes for brass, cymbal crashes, and sweeping melodies, but there’s more contrast, including a pretty memorable death scene. Aulin allows himself more emotion and subtler ideas here, from an introduction of regal restraint to a second number which ends on a note of Elgarian melancholy.
I’m a little worried about the sound quality. CPO’s German engineering has failed me twice in a row now, between this and a recent disc of waltzes by Richard Eilenberg; the sound seems over-reverberant and aggressive, with sections of the orchestra fighting each other in a jumble for supremacy. The timpani really rumble away. Still, the playing’s very good, and if I can imagine a bit more sprightliness in the dances, Niklas Willén compensates with a very sympathetic manner.
The best of Aulin’s music, that I’ve heard, remains the third violin concerto, which manages the neat trick of being pastoral, not especially dramatic, and continuously gorgeous but somehow incredibly compelling. Master Olof ranks right up there, and the Dances are delightful. Very much worth your time!
Brian Reinhart