Erland von KOCH (1910-2009)
Symphony No. 3, Op. 38 (1948) [23:28] Sinfonia seria (Symphony No. 4), Op. 51 (1962) [20:23] Impulsi (1964) [11:17] Nordiskt capriccio, Op. 26 (1943) [6:21]
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Per Hammarström
rec. 2010-13, Berwald Hall, Stockholm, Sweden
Reviewed as a 24/48 download from
Pdf booklet included
World première recordings (symphonies) BIS BIS-2169 [62:48]
This is one of my ‘innocent ear’ reviews.
In the past they’ve yielded some wonderful surprises – the
works of Lars-Erik
Larsson and Alfredo
Casella come to mind – so I wasted no time downloading this
new von Koch release. I note that Rob Barnett had good things to say
about two discs of music by this little-known Swedish composer; one
Suecia that includes the Nordiskt capriccio, the other
a mixed collection issued by Swedish
Society Discofil. At the time of writing – January 2016 –
Chandos also had plans to release a von Koch recording, but as with
their recent Copland album the Swedes have beaten the Brits to the draw
So, who is Erland von Koch? Stockholm born and bred he studied at the
city’s conservatoire before taking piano lessons with Claudio
Arrau and conducting ones with Clemens Krauss. In the latter part of
his career he wrote music for the Swedish film industry. Is von Koch's
music worth resurrecting? BIS, who make a virtue of recording obscure
Nordic repertoire, certainly think so; remarkably, there are no fewer
than two world premières here.
Unusually for BIS this is a 24/48 download, rather than 24/44.1 or 24.96,
and the disc is a CD rather than the customary SACD. Don’t think
that means the sound isn’t up to the very high standards set by
the company’s more recent releases, for it most certainly is.
That’s very clear in the frisky Allegro moderato that
introduces Symphony No. 3. Von Koch likes jazzy, often scampering, tunes
that lurk in the lower strings, while conductor Per Hammarström ensures
the movement’s staccato climaxes are delivered with maximum impact.
The Adagio espressivo, now brooding, now wistful, has a quiet
simplicity that’s most attractive; as for the closing Allegro
agitato it romps home in a burst of energy that underlines the
score’s vitality and sense of purpose.
When it comes to unfamiliar music I try to suggest some comparables
as a guide for inquisitive listeners. Rob Barnett has a few suggestions,
but anyone who knows Larsson's symphonies - his Second in particular
- will find von Koch's music is cut from much the same cloth. Not surprising,
perhaps, as they're compatriots and almost exact contemporaries. At
times von Koch's Third also reminds me of Bernard Herrmann in general
and his zip-and-slash score for North by Northwest in particular.
And that's not damning with faint praise, as I'm not one of those who
regards film composers as an inferior breed. That said, Larsson's writing
does have an authority and flair - a consistency of imagination, if
you like - that really makes him stand out in this company.
That's not to suggest von Koch's oeuvre is
without originality or substance - far from it. For instance the Andante
of his the Sinfonia seria may seem a tad measured at first
but it does have some perky woodwind writing. And then there's the Moderato,
its pensive mood punctuated with flashes of fun and feistiness. Indeed,
both von Koch and Larsson have an irrepressible sense of humour that
never fails to delight. All that ebullience spills over into the Allegro,
which has a strong, sweeping pulse and some bracing passages for brass.
It's such an open-hearted piece, and that's reflected in the unalloyed
pleasure with which it's played.
Impulsi – the first part of a triptych that includes
Echi and Ritmi – is a more trenchant affair.
Even then those plucked strings are never far away, with moments of
imperious splendour that recall Sibelius at his looming best. That said,
von Koch can't keep a straight face for long; he invests the
piece with a boisterous charm that’s most appealing. Not a front-rank
score, perhaps, but a well constructed and engaging one that doesn’t
outstay its welcome. Ditto the bouncy Nordiskt capriccio, which
boasts some very muscular writing for the timps, not to mention a bright
blaze of brass that brings to mind Janáček’s Sinfonietta.
Now that really is a fun piece, and one I’d love to hear in the
These are lively, good-natured scores, well played and recorded; more,