Holmboe’s Lean and Mean Chamber Symphonies

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Vagn Holmboe’s three chamber symphonies span the latter half of his career, from 1951 to 1970. They are wonderful works: sophisticated, tightly contracted, imaginatively scored, and approachable without the slightest suggestion of pandering. The composer’s modern, neoclassical idiom prevails. The quick movements surge forward with rhythmic vitality, while the lyrical slow writing shows evidence of  Holmboe’s engagement with the music of Bartók (consider the Adagio of Chamber Symphony No. 1). The first chamber symphony is scored for a small ensemble, but the scoring becomes more varied as the series progresses. No. 2 makes imaginative use of the celesta, while No. 3 introduces a discerning but colorful percussion contingent. You can sample the finale of the Third Chamber Symphony below.

The performances here are exceptional. John Storgards and the Lapland Chamber Orchestra play with an attention to detail, precision of ensemble, and clarity of texture that can only be called perfect. Although the ensemble is small, the massed strings project a surprising richness in the slow music, and never sound tired or sloppy when called (as they often are) to generate propulsive accompaniments to the winds. Similarly, the percussion adds color and rhythmic snap but never dominates. Part of the success of the production stems from the crystal-clear engineering, whether in regular stereo or SACD playback. Holmboe was an important, consistently excellent composer, and this release constitutes a major addition to his growing discography.


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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: No reference recording

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