WORKS: Symphonic Metamorphosis No. 1; Symphonic Metamorphosis No. 2; Symphonic Metamorphosis No. 3; Symphonic Metamorphosis No. 4; Epitaph, Op. 68; Monolith, Op. 76; Epilog, Op. 80; Tempo variabile, op. 108
PERFORMER: Aalborg SO/Owain Arwel Hughes
CATALOGUE NO: CD-852
‘Monolith’, the word for a column cut from a single block of stone, and the title of Vagn Holmboe’s second Symphonic Metamorphosis, says it all. Unity was this Danish composer’s credo: unity in diversity that pursued a goal, amounting to the essential metamorphic experience. The surface will change. There will be embellishments. But beneath, it’s the same through and through.
Rugged and shining with Northern light, yet also chilled by a cool inwardness, the music of these four Metamorphoses is strong on the palette, dry to the taste and with a flinty finish. In terms of mood, we might hear its relation to the urgent message of Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony, but with shades of Bartók wedded to conjunct, diatonic inspiration. It’s inherent in the material chosen by Vagn Holmboe: the rugged opening intervals, for example, of the first Metamorphosis, ‘Epitaph’, composed in 1954 and dedicated to the Third Programme. But other elements enhance the effect. There’s a way of spacing woodwind unique to this composer, and a pointed use of timpani and percussion. The Aalborg Symphony Orchestra has the style at its fingertips, and so does Owain Arwel Hughes, already with Holmboe symphonic recordings to his credit on the BIS label. Nicholas Williams