Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Andrew Manze and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra provide first rate performances of orchestral works by Lars-Erik Larsson in volume one of CPO’s Larsson orchestral works series

Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986) was born in Åkarp, Sweden. He studied with Ernst Ellberg at the Royal Academy of Music, Stockholm and with Alban Berg and Fritz Reuter in Vienna and Leipzig before working for Swedish Radio. Larsson taught at the Stockholm Conservatory and, later at Uppsala University where he held the position as Director of Music.

Though influenced by late romanticism, Larsson absorbed twelve tone techniques, later adapting them to his own use whilst never losing his own natural lyricism. His compositions include choral and vocal works; orchestral works, including three symphonies, concertos, chamber and instrumental works and works for piano.

CPO www.jpc.de/jpcng/cpo/home have now released volume one of Larsson’s orchestral works with Andrew Manze www.intermusica.co.uk/artists/conductor/andrew-manze/biography conducting the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra  www.helsingborgskonserthus.se .

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The opening of the Allegro moderato of Symphony No.1 in D, Op.2 (1927-28) seems to just bubble up into a flowing melody which the brass point up. The melody soon gains in momentum as the music rises before falling back to a pastoral sounding section, where the principal cello has a say, as do the woodwind and horn as they take the melody in a lovely hushed section. The music rises and falls a number of times before a final climax and a relaxed coda.

The Adagio features a lovely melody for woodwind taken up by the strings as it gently flows, full of warmth, with little rises in dynamics only to fall to a quiet coda.

A little timpani roll opens the Scherzo. Allegro vivace before the woodwind, then full orchestra move ahead in a lithe, dancing melody which is beautifully orchestrated. There is a gentle, flowing trio section before the dancing theme returns to make its sunny way to the coda.

The Finale. Allegro con spirito – Allegro festive opens buoyantly with a brief cymbal clash. There are moments of more tranquil melody but overall the mood is of confident joy. Many lovely little woodwind phrases appear occasionally reminding one of Larsson’s fellow countryman, Kurt Atterberg. Slowly and imperceptibly the music builds toward the end with a sweep of strings, then a brass chorale before rushing headlong into the Allegro Festivo coda.

This is a thoroughly beguiling symphony that never flags in this fine performance from Andrew Manze and his Helsingborg players.

Fyra vignette till Skakespeares ‘En vintersaga’, Op.18 (Four Vignettes to Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale) (1937-38) were taken from Larsson’s incidental music that he wrote for the play. A gently rocking theme from the oboe against a gentle orchestral accompaniment opens Siciliana. Andantino before a flute takes over and the melody slowly reveals itself. Larsson subtly adds orchestral textures before the oboe returns with cor anglais and flute to lead to the coda.

The Intermezzo. Allegro leggiero, a lovely, joyous little piece, skips along as the theme is shared around the strings. A harp joins the orchestra in the hushed opening of the Pastoral. Allegretto pastorale. A flute joins, then other woodwind, as the melody grows in dynamics before the woodwind lead to a gentle coda.

Epilog. Andante has a warm, mellow flowing melody which eventually quickens before slowing for the hushed coda.

These four pieces deserve to be heard more often. They are as attractive as any of the short orchestral works Grieg wrote.

Musik för orkester, Op.40 (1949) marks a change of voice from Larsson. Written to a commission for the 25th anniversary of the Stiftelsen Malmö Konserthus, it was first performed in January 1950.

Strings emerge from silence in the opening of the first movement, Andante teneramente – Tranquillo – Allegro molto, swirling atmospherically and freely tonal, before the woodwind join. This sounds a much more advanced Larsson with a slightly darker element and subtle dissonances. There is a greater depth of expression here. Soon the music slows to a quieter, darker passage as the strings quietly ruminate with woodwind contributions. The timpani arrive to pull the music forward as the orchestra becomes more animated, taking the music on with a rollicking theme. Eventually the music slows with rather sinister, pizzicato passages before the rather demonic dance rhythm leads to the coda.

The Andante elegiaco opens with gentle timpani taps that introduce a glowing orchestral theme. A horn appears with its melancholy tune, followed by a flute. Despite the marking, this is less elegiac than moody and grim faced. The music soon tries to build in power with brass intoning but loses its power and falls to a quiet, anguished string passage. Again the music tries to become more passionate but quietens with timpani taps and flute arabesques.  Eventually the music rises to a climax with brass and some wonderfully written wind textures before slowly quietening to end with the beating timpani pulse and a mournful cello.

Brass bursts out to open the Allegro before the orchestra takes the music rapidly forward, dusting off the gloom with infectious brass and woodwind motifs that are then pushed around the orchestra. As the music quietens there is a sense of a troubled atmosphere but the music soon rises forcefully to the coda.

Certainly Larsson had developed his harmonic language by 1949 adding a greater depth.

The short Pastoral för liten orkester (1937) opens with a happy theme driven by pizzicato strings and lovely woodwind, rarely rising above its gentle flowing course. This is a beautiful, exquisitely written but slight work.

The last work on this disc is Larsson’s Lyrisk fantasi. Op.54 för liten orkester (1967). Marked Lento – Andante – Lento, shimmering strings provide the opening, soon followed by a subdued trumpet theme. There are exquisite woodwind passages with the music rising in brilliance before the woodwind lead to a gentle coda.

It is striking to hear the difference between Larsson’s earlier works and his more mature compositions. Given that his second and third symphonies date from 1937 and 1944-5 it will be interesting to hear how such works advanced in musical language.

Larsson is an interesting composer who never lost his melodic roots. Occasionally other composers show their influence, not least Sibelius in some of the rapid string motifs.

Andrew Manze and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra provide first rate performances and receive an excellent recording from the Konserthuset, Helsingborg, Sweden. There are excellent booklet notes.

I look forward to future releases in this series.

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