Hugo Alfvén: Symphonies Nos. 1-5; Swedish Rhapsodies

Neeme Järvi

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Hugo Alfvén: Symphonies Nos. 1-5; Swedish Rhapsodies Review

by Blair Sanderson

Performed irregularly outside Sweden and seldom recorded, let alone released in a comprehensive package, Hugo Alfvén's symphonies and rhapsodies are well served in this enjoyable five-disc set from BIS; through the exemplary performances by Neeme Järvi and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, these overlooked orchestral masterworks may at last receive wider recognition. Most significant and rewarding are the five symphonies, composed between 1896 and 1952. This impressive body of work is comparable in Romantic expression, inventive orchestration, and dynamic energy to the seven symphonies of Sibelius. Järvi and the orchestra present them with high drama and intense feeling, and their robust playing, consistently clear timbres, and coherent interpretations help unify the symphonies, despite the wide chronological gaps between them and Alfvén's stylistic changes. Of secondary importance are the three Swedish Rhapsodies and miscellaneous short works and suites of incidental music. Yet these vibrant pieces complement the symphonies with their nationalistic color, free-spirited melodies, and occasional humorous antics. Taken as a whole, this compilation is a generous serving of Alfvén's most compelling music, and will stand for some time to come as the most authoritative portrait of the composer. The exceptional sound of the original releases, issued between 1988 and 1993, is preserved in this 2004 reissue.

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