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Hugo ALFVÉN (1872-1960)
Bergakungen Orkestersvit op.37 [14.45]
Symphony No.3 op.23 in E major [39.29]
Uppsala Rhapsody op.24 [10.45]
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin / Łukasz Borowicz
rec. 2018, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
CPO 555 237-2 [65.24]

Among the many services provided by this enterprising label has been its commitment to Scandinavian music, with complete cycles of Atterburg, Larsson, Rangstrom, Wiren and Peterson-Berger symphonies, among others. It is therefore unsurprising to find a commitment to a complete cycle of Alfvén’s symphonies. This is the second release in the series, and a very fine one, which stands well beside the cycles of Neemi Järvi (BIS, reissued by Brilliant, but I think not currently available from the latter) and Niklas Willén as separate discs for Naxos. Each is most enjoyable, with Järvi and Borowicz more classically symphonic while Willén has an acute ear for the quirky details that are so much a feature of Alfvén’s style.

And there, I think, is the little issue of Alfvén’s symphonies. As a rightly popular Swedish composer, he had a sharp ear for detail, for the sudden catch in a tune that fixes a piece keenly in the mind. Nowhere is this more evident than in a work from old age, the Suite from the Ballet, The Prodigal Son. Listen to Willén’s wonderfully forward account (coupled with Symphony No.2, Naxos 8.555072) for its full flavour. Throughout his shorter orchestral works, notably his ballet scores and rhapsodies, that wit is apparent. In the symphonies, however, he becomes more restrained – at least to my ear – as if conscious of the seriousness of the enterprise, which is not at all to suggest any lack of command and invention.

The E major symphony is a much lighter and happier affair than the first two. It was written in 1905/6 and was inspired by an extended trip to Italy where he met his future wife (she was married to someone else at the time, so nuptials were not celebrated until 1912). The symphony is appealing but melodies are not – I think – among Alfvén’s most memorable. Nevertheless, it is worth exploring. It is never less than interesting and attractive. The theme of the second movement is irritatingly reminiscent of There’s no place like home (Home, Sweet Home), a link denied by Alfvén.
Uppsala Rhapsody, from 1907, is a joyous piece, less well-known than the first Swedish Rhapsody (Midsummer Vigil – with that theme), full of good things to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Linnaeus’s birth. In the spirit of Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture, it uses student songs and others, wonderfully woven together. The high spirits are splendidly captured in this recording.

The four-movement suite from Bergakungen (The Mountain King) was arranged by the composer after various legal and other difficulties with the original ballet (1916-1923). The suite is lively, with a real sparkle, well captured by Borowicz, as by Willén (coupled with Symphony No.1, Uppsala Rhapsody, and Festival Overture, Naxos 8.553692).

This is a most welcome issue, committed and splendidly played. No lover of Alfvén will be disappointed by the excellence of the production.

Michael Wilkinson

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