The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra perform orchestral works by Koch

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COMPOSERS: Erland Von Koch
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Koch
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Sinfonia Seria; Impulsi; Nordiskt Capriccio
PERFORMER: Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Per Hammarström
CATALOGUE NO: BIS BIS-2169

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‘Composing symphonies is hard work and less then lucrative,’ wrote the composer Erland von Koch, ‘they are rarely played, especially if they are Swedish.’ Harsh, but probably true: Stenhammar, Atterberg, Berwald and Pettersson, all key Swedish symphonists, are dwarfed by Finland’s Sibelius and Denmark’s Nielsen. And it’s only more than half a century on from their composition that Koch’s Third and Fourth Symphonies – he wrote six in total – are being given a first airing on disc. Still, they are given a good showing by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Per Hammarström.

Dark undercurrents swirl in both symphonies, moments of unsettling beauty juxtaposed with passages of fidgety rhythmic energy. Hints of other composers’ languages echo in Koch’s soundworld: snare drum in the Allegro Moderato (No. 3) suggests Shostakovich, a propulsive motif hints at Sibelius; anguished strings in the Third’s Adagio espressivo point to Bartók, while the music’s unsentimental character in general brings to mind Hindemith, with whom Koch nearly studied before the Second World War. Hammarström balances the orchestral sound judiciously, with wind lines and the all-important percussion coming through clean and clear against lean, expressive strings. Koch’s 1964 Impulsi is in a similar vein to the symphonies, opening with an ambiguous major-minor chord that colours the whole piece; while the folk-inspired Nordic Capriccio bowls by with joyous glee.

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Rebecca Franks