Englund: Symphony No. 4 (Nostalgic); Symphony No. 5 (Fennica); The Great Wall of China

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LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 (Nostalgic); Symphony No. 5 (Fennica); The Great Wall of China
PERFORMER: Tampere PO/Eri Klas
The spirit of Shostakovich permeates Englund’s Fourth Symphony, written in 1976 and dedicated to the memory of an (unnamed) great composer. In the adagio first movement, scored for strings, there’s the intensity and harmonic palette of the opening or slow movement of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, while in the second movement, tick-tock percussion and pizzicato strings are interrupted by side-drum rat-a-tats reminiscent of so many Shostakovich scherzos. The third movement, entitled ‘Nostalgia’, adds in Sibelius’s Tapiola and Bach’s Air on the G String, while in the finale, it’s back to Shostakovich, with strong echoes of the First Cello Concerto in both melody and rhythm. Although the music steers clear of pastiche, I kept being distracted into thinking ‘what was that?’, rather than listening to what was there. There’s none of this overt grave-robbing in the Fifth Symphony, a concentrated one-movement piece that was Englund’s response to the Second World War, though there’s something of the muscle of Stravinsky’s Symphony in C. The Great Wall of China comes from incidental music for a surrealist play by Max Frisch, and here the elements of parody and quotation are deliberate and enjoyable: if you like the Jazz Suites by Shostakovich (here he is again) you’ll love this. Martin Cotton