Alfven: Symphony No. 5 in A minor; Bergakungen Suite; Elegy from Gustav II Adolf

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WORKS: Symphony No. 5 in A minor; Bergakungen Suite; Elegy from Gustav II Adolf
PERFORMER: Royal Stockholm PO/Neeme Järvi
Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960) was the earliest Swedish symphonist of any note; indeed, his compatriot Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927) had yet to attempt symphonic composition when, in 1897, Alfvén’s grandiose First Symphony took Sweden’s musical establishment by storm. Alfvén’s Fifth (and last) Symphony was premiered in 1953, though its first movement was heard (with an alternative concert ending) in 1942, during the composer’s 70th birthday celebrations.


The completed work, now receiving its first recording, leans generally toward Strauss, Nielsen and Sibelius. That said, the extended opening movement, tersely argued and powerfully conceived, quickly identifies an altogether distinctive, and hardly less practised hand at work. The Andante is by turns nostalgic and consolatory; its tasteful orchestration is typical of Alfvén’s mature style. An agitated Scherzo follows; skeletal xylophone episodes and lurid stopped horn glissandi confirm this to be the work of a truly progressive, rather than provincial composer. Heroism and melodic spontaneity combine in a jubilant finale, whose closing peroration befits a symphony assuming the Beethovenian ‘tragedy to triumph’ mantle, borne with dignity and no trace of sycophantic artifice.

The disc also includes the Suite from Bergakungen, a folk-inspired ballet written between 1916 and 1923, fragments of which appear in the Fifth Symphony, and the Elegy from Alfvén’s incidental music for Ludvig Nordström’s historical drama commemorating the death, in 1632, of the Swedish King Gustav II Adolf.


Järvi draws playing of total distinction from the excellent Stockholm orchestra, who surpass themselves under his direction. Though the shorter items are enjoyable in their own right, the Symphony has both substance and quality, and surely merits regular repertoire status. An indispensable issue. Michael Jameson