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Åke UDDÉN (1903-1987)
String Quartet No. 1 (1940) [22:00]
String Trio (1928) [20:30]
Les chanson de Bilitis (1941-45, arr. Mikael Sjögren for strings from original piano score) [5:17]
String Quartet No. 2 (1955) [17:11]
Charlotte Hellekant (mezzo-soprano)
Upsala Chamber Soloists
rec. Boo church, Nacka, Sweden, 2017
DAPHNE 1060 [64:24]

Åke Uddén: Here's a composer I couldn't recall hearing about before. He came under the beneficent influence of Ravel's music and that of "Les Six". This Swedish composer was a professor at Stockholm's Royal College of Music. His Gallic affinities can be traced to his years at the Paris Conservatory where Tournemire was among his teachers. He returned to Sweden in 1928.

One would not call his music lush. It's predominantly tonal, oxygen-affluent and occasionally complex. It's warmly performed by a celebrity line-up. The recording is similarly warm. The First String Quartet is variously headlong, intense, moonlit- hazed, sweet and fragile, sprightly and slowly dignified across a long Partita finale. In that last movement the music becomes harmonically convoluted and is shot through with shafts of smoky-grey light. The world of the first movement returns for a couple of minutes before a greying enchantment returns to close the work in calm.

The harmonic equivocation of the finale of the First Quartet hangs over the emotionally cool String Trio which predates the Quartet by twelve years. Charcoal half-lights predominate in a style that Rawsthorne would have found congenial. It's a gritty, lively but not especially likeable work. It is good to hear Charlotte Hellekant again. She has a big operatic soprano voice deployed to luxurious, passionate and finally sardonic effect in these three French songs of Uddén's fraught 1940s. Together they amount to hardly five minutes of music setting Les chansons de Bilitis. Fast forward to the mid-1950s for the three-movement Second String Quartet. Its Allegro con brio buzzes with activity and affectionate inspirations. The Andante non troppo lento is reverent and spiritual with some high writing for the violins and a well calculated petering out to silence. The final Largo - Agitato is both stern, whirlingly rhetorical and shudderingly sinister.

Daphne have recorded this music with close-up candour but have left space for dynamic contrast. Their documentation in English, Swedish and French is good but I do wish we could have been told more about the man and his other music.

Uddén was clearly not a man to ingratiate himself with audiences. He speaks as a connoisseur's composer, constantly questing for subtlety. Here is a man of sober and testing inspirations rather than blindingly colourful effects.

Rob Barnett



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