Classical Music Review: New Releases

Vagn Holmboe - Chamber Concertos Nos. 10-13. Chamber Concerto No. 10, Op. 40, for wood - brass - gut and orchestra; Chamber Concerto No. 11, Op. 44, for trumpet and chamber orchestra ; Chamber Concerto No. 12, Op. 52 for trombone and orchestra; Chamber Concerto No. 13, Op. 67, for oboe, viola and chamber orchestra.  Jacques Mauger, trombone; Ole Edvard Antonsen, trumpet; Tim Frederiksen, viola; Max Artved, oboe; The Danish Radio Sinfonietta; Hannu Koivula, conductor. dacapo 8.224087 (74'44).

With this release, Hannu Koivula and the Danish Radio Sinfonietta conclude their four CD survey of Vagn Holmboe's "Chamber Concertos."  According to Jakob Levinson's notes accompanying this recording, the concertos served "as a kind of ongoing workshop" for Holmboe as he assimilated the influences of Bartok and Central European folk music, and as he searched for a way to reconcile this influence with the Nordic strain embodied by Nielsen and Sibelius.  These elements are certainly present; however, these concertos emerge as fully realized and compelling works.

The Chamber Concerto No. 10 for "wood - brass - gut" is an unusually structured piece in nine movements played attaca and scored for groups of woodwind, brass and strings with orchestral accompaniment.  The concerto opens with a fanfare in the strings which moves to the woodwinds in the second movement.  As the work progresses the thematic material is reshaped and varied, a foretaste of Holmboe's "metamorphosis" technique.  This gives unity to the work and blurs the distinctions between movements.  This is one of the finest pieces in the series.

Chamber Concerto No. 11 for trumpet was modelled after Haydn and like Haydn's concertos has a brief largo introduction followed by three movements of the form fast-slow-fast.  The first movement is in sonata form with the thematic fragments being traded between the trumpet and strings.  The movement breaks off suddenly, a brief motto is played on solo French horn, the trumpet plays a short response, and the moody slow movement begins.  Over an increasing rhythmic backing, the trumpet is given a meandering, improvisational melody.  The finale, marked allegretto, ma vivace, is a lively, rhythmically complex movement where the trumpet alternates between steccato phrases and a soaring melody.

Written two years later in 1950, the Chamber Concerto No. 12 for trombone is scored for full orchestra and is in the standard three movements.  The first movement is an exercise in what Levinson calls "polymetrics," the superimposition of phrases in different time signatures.  At one point, the strings play in 3/4, the horns in 4/4, and the bassoons in 3/2.   The overall pulse is in 5/4.  After a brief slow movement, the 5/4 pulse rises to dominate the piece.  The third movement features a cadenza written by Holmboe's student, Per Nørgård.

Holmboe's last chamber concerto, the Chamber Concerto No. 13 for oboe and viola (1955-56), is a forward looking piece in which the oboe and viola weave delicate, eerie melodies against a small orchestra consisting of woodwinds, four French horns and strings.  Holmboe solves the "problem" of a two instrument concerto by having the oboe and viola play together through most of the work.  Despite the traditional appearance of a three movement form, the work inhabits the same conceptual world as the Concerto No. 10.  It is no surprise to discover that Holmboe's very next opus, Epitaph (available in a splendid recording by Owain Arwel Hughes and the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra on BIS CD 852), is the first of his four "Symphonic Metamorphoses," the works that epitomize his late style.

To my mind, Holmboe is one of the most important composers of the last hundred years.  His prolific, varied and challenging output are a great achievement and deserve the widest possible exposure.  Standing at the mid-point of his career, the works on this disk provide a splendid introduction to his music.

Tony Gualtieri
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