Holmboe: Symphony No. 4 (Sinfonia Sacra); Symphony No. 5

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COMPOSERS: Holmboe
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 (Sinfonia Sacra); Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Aarhus SO, Jutland Opera Choir*/Owain Arwel Hughes
CATALOGUE NO: CD 572 DDD
The most significant Danish symphonist of the post-Nielsen generation, Vagn Holmboe, was born in 1909. The symphony as a genre is central to his output (he has composed 12), representing for him ‘music that is built on synthesis, on continuity, or, to say it more fashionably, it is the line and the tension that are crucial for whether a work is a symphony or not; spontaneous contrasts must be subsidiary’ (1944). Critical to his symphonic technique is an extension of the organic process of thematic metamorphosis developed by Liszt – ‘a process of development that transforms one matter into another, without losing its identity…’ (1961).

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The Fourth (1941, rev. 1945, six movements) and Fifth (1944, three movements) are eloquent ‘war’ symphonies, the former in memory of the composer’s brother. The Sixth (1947, two movements) and Seventh (1950, subdivided into three movements and a coda linked by three brief ‘Intermedios’, played without a break) strive towards metamorphic unity. This is powerful, imaginative music, a celebration of tonality, of rhythm, memorable in idea, magnificent in orchestration. Associations abound – from Beethoven to Shostakovich, Sibelius to Stravinsky – always, however, in the service of a tough individual personality.

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Committed advocacy by Owain Arwel Hughes, whose grasp of the emotional span and cumulative tension of Holmboe’s vision is impressive. Spectacular recording. Ates Orga