Nordgren: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 5

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LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Finnish RSO/Sakari Oramo
Among present-day Scandinavian composers, the Finn Pehr Henrik Nordgren is clearly an important, urgent voice, though a certain histrionic quality will impress or repel according to taste. In the past decade he has embarked on a series of symphonies whose ‘stylistic pluralism’ disguises neither his Nordic orientation, nor the fact that he taps ferociously into that vein of Angst-ridden elegy, deriving ultimately from Mahler and Shostakovich, that was domiciled in Scandinavia by Allan Pettersson. His Third Symphony begins with a big, overwhelmingly plangent Adagio entitled ‘Lamentations’, followed by five short movements, heterogeneous in character but none offering even a crumb of comfort (two of them are for solo piano – the player, rather unfairly, isn’t credited). By contrast, No. 5 is monolithic, even monothematic, sounding occasionally like a latter-day Tapiola. But mostly not – the single archaic, folk-like theme is varied in many colours and textures, some of them spellbinding (haunting solos for bass flute, for instance), others violently militaristic. Melodically it stays obstinately unvaried, sounding repeatedly and rather infuriatingly across more than half an hour. Its repetitions have nothing to do with West Coast Minimalism (Nordgren is more of a tonal ‘maximalist’) but seem intended to evoke a kind of half-articulate Stone Age expressiveness, an end-of-epoch wail. Disturbing, intermittently impressive music, excellently performed and vividly recorded, not to be listened to if you’re feeling even slightly suicidal. Calum MacDonald