Alfven: Swedish Rhapsody No. 1; Swedish Rhapsody No. 2; Swedish Rhapsody No. 3; A Legend of the Skerries,Op. 20; Elegy from King Gustav Adolf II, Op. 49

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COMPOSERS: Alfven
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Swedish Rhapsody No. 1; Swedish Rhapsody No. 2; Swedish Rhapsody No. 3; A Legend of the Skerries,Op. 20; Elegy from King Gustav Adolf II, Op. 49
PERFORMER: Iceland SO/Petri Sakari
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9313 DDD
This is marvellous stuff. Swedish music may not live up to the reputation of that of its neighbours Norway and Finland, but Alfvén carved a niche of his own in Scandinavian music. There are times when he suggests an Impressionist Grieg (even a Grieg impressionist), and there are occasional hints of Brahms or Wagner, but so much of his music is shot through with original melodic and harmonic twists and turns that it is easy to forget these influences. The three Swedish Rhapsodies were composed over a period of roughly 25 years and are, respectively, a riotous portrayal of a midsummer festival, a Swedish version of the Academic Festival Overture for Uppsala University (complete with student songs) and a seductive, nostalgic evocation of the Swedish countryside. But most impressive is the wonderful Legend of the Skerries, very much a thematically strong, Bax-like tone poem, rather than Impressionistic scene painting. The final piece is a particularly affecting Elegy.

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There are alternative recordings of most of these pieces by Neeme Järvi and the Stockholm Philharmonic on BIS, but this new disc is easily their equal. The Iceland SO is a real find, and this selection justifies, even more than its previous discs, Chandos’s faith in it as one of Europe’s finest ensembles. Matthew Rye