ALBUM TITLE: Alfvén
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Andante religioso
PERFORMER: Norrköping SO/Niklas Willén
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557612
Decades separate Hugo Alfvén’s Fourth Symphony (1919) from his Fifth, a work upon which he was still tinkering at the time of his death, aged 88, in 1960. But stylistically his music travelled no distance at all in those years; indeed some of the Fifth’s ideas were poached from a ballet score, The Mountain King, dating from the time of the earlier symphony. Its most adventurous aspect is the wonderfully lurid writing in the scherzo, with skeletal xylophone and baying brass glissandos; the rest is perhaps more craftsmanship than original thought, though the Grieg-like melodies and orchestral mastery that linger from his earliest works have their own attractive sparkle. The first movement was performed for Alfvén’s 70th birthday and achieved a life of its own; not until 1992 did all four movements receive their first recording, as part of Neeme Järvi’s Alfvén cycle for BIS. Now Naxos and Niklas Willén conclude their decade-long traversal with the same work. The first noticeable difference is that Willén takes more than five minutes longer over the work, though in direct comparison it doesn’t feel slower. The Norrköping Symphony Orchestra’s playing is fresh and vivid, easily the equal of the better-known Royal Stockholm Philharmonic on BIS. Willén projects the music with just that little bit more zeal and rhythmic charge, making it ultimately preferable.