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Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-1996)
Concerto for Viola, Op. 189 (1992)* [21:19]
Concerto for Orchestra (1929) [13:12]
Concerto for Violin, No. 2, Op. 139 (1979)** [24:44]
Lars Anders Tomter (viola)*
Erik Heide (violin)**
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Dmitri Slobodeniouk
rec. 13-17 June 2011, De Geerhallen, Norrköping, Sweden. Hybrid SACD, stereo and multichannel.
Reviewed in SACD stereo
DACAPO 6.220599 [59:18]

Holmboe fans are fortunate to have a fairly wide selection of the composer’s oeuvre on record. This is thanks to the tireless advocacy of Dacapo and BIS. The latter’s 6-CD box of the symphonies - available for the price of four - is particularly desirable, as much for the cost savings as the quality of the recordings and performances. This Dacapo disc of concertos is particularly welcome, as these works don’t appear to be available elsewhere. Factor in Dacapo’s expertise when it comes to SACD - I’m delighted they still have faith in Super Audio - and this looks like a very tempting release indeed.

The Viola Concerto, a late work, was written for the Israeli violist Rivka Golani. It’s played here by the Norwegian Lars Anders Tomter, who has put together a relatively small but solid discography across several labels. So, the auguries for this concerto are promising, although newcomers may be temporarily stunned by the pounding start to the piece. Goodness, what a big, brawny sound this is, and how energetic for a composer in his twilight years. The viola part is warm and lyrical, and the soloist - forwardly balanced - is easily heard above the occasional tumult.
Holmboe’s dancing rhythms - delicate on the viola, foot-stomping in the orchestra - make for a thrilling counterpoint, but it’s the glorious solo writing that lodges firmly in one’s musical memory. As for Tomter’s playing I can’t imagine a more beguiling or generously pitched performance of the concerto than this; his full, well-rounded tone - especially in the wistful moments of the second movement - is a joy to hear. Both he and the orchestra - the latter’s spring-heeled outbursts sparingly deployed - are superbly caught by the Dacapo team.
What a virile piece this is, and how varied and interesting. There’s absolutely no sign here of a composer bereft of ideas or tired of living and, sensing that, everyone plays their hearts out. These qualities are repeated in the much earlier Concerto for Orchestra, a clear-eyed and trenchant take on the neo-classical fashion of the time. The work’s Hindemithian breadth and weight are unmistakable - Mathis, anyone? - but intertwined with this is writing of surpassing loveliness and lift. These antinomies, an integral aspect of this composer’s craft, are brought to the fore in a reading of strength and high colour.
Erik Heide, the soloist in the sometimes quirky Violin Concerto No. 2, is also new to me, but as with the other artists on this disc he plays with great assurance and style. Listeners will need to recalibrate their ears after hearing Tomter’s honeyed tones, but that’s not to suggest Heide’s tone is remotely bright or scrawny. The piece does strike me as a tad cerebral though - it’s tautly conceived and rigorously argued - but that doesn’t mean it’s without flights of fancy, especially in the Korngoldian Adagio affettuoso. Conductor Dmitri Slobodeniouk doesn’t hold back, and the Norrköping players respond with alacrity to his extrovert direction.
The best hybrids offer exemplary Red Book and Super Audio layers, and this Dacapo release is no exception. Both are full-blooded and wonderfully nuanced, so even those with humble CD players won’t feel short-changed. Jens Cornelius’s liner-notes aren’t perhaps as analytical as some, but his enthusiasm for this music is certainly infectious. Otherwise, the usual high production values of the house prevail.
Indispensable additions to the Holmboe discography; sonically distinguished too.
Dan Morgan
See also review by Byzantion