EYVIND ALNÆS: Symphony No.1 in C minor Op. 7; Symphony No. 2 in D major Op. 45 – Latvian National Symphony Orchestra / Terje Mikkelsen – Sterling multichannel SACD CDS 1084-2 [Distr. by Qualiton]; 78:14 *****:
Eyvind Alnæs (1872-1932) was a Norwegian Romantic born to a musical family. His father was a teacher and conducted the choir at the church in Frederikstad. A string quartet was well received in a private concert in 1891, and after a public concert in April1892, during which the quartet, now revised, was again played, together with performances of songs and his suite for two pianos, his reputation was established. Not long afterwards, with the recommendation of Grieg, Sinding among others, he was funded to study under Carl Reinecke in Leipzig for two years. He won another scholarship in 1897 to study in Berlin where he completed his First Symphony.
This young man’s symphony shows considerable maturity of thought; my reactions were of unsurprise that it beguiled contemporary audiences, and surprise that it hasn’t been aired more often. In four movements, it owes a little to inspiration from Tchaikovsky. The first is deeply passionate and is followed by a slow movement of attention-grabbing beauty, this time inspired by Nordic folk-song. Though not named as a scherzo, the third movement is at least partly light and skittish, and the final movement tells the other half of the story of the first, ending with triumph in the major.
After this well-constructed, excellently orchestrated and interesting symphony was completed, Alnæs concentrated on writing songs and smaller works and was very busy earning a living as a conductor of choirs to finance his composition. The very fine Second Symphony was written in 1923, again in the usual four movements, and was greeted enthusiastically at its première in 1924. By the time it was performed again in 1947 it had fallen out of fashion and, sadly, has had to wait many years for a reappraisal. And what a fine work it is! The first movement is deeply optimistic and its ideas build on one another to excellent effect. The adagio is an elegy to the memory of one of the composer’s friends, a movement where the passing of time seems suspended. The scherzo is quite delightful and the most charming piece new to me I’ve heard this year; gossamer lightness and flitting damselflies come to mind. An uplifting final movement completes the symphony, the movement some critics feel the least successful. Certainly by the mid-1920s the symphony was from an earlier time though 21st century listeners may be more forgiving than some of those in 1947.
Terje Mikkelsen has obviously taken both works to heart judging from the performances on this disc, and he inspired the Latvian NSO to excellent results when the recordings were set down in Riga just six months ago. The orchestra is a fine one and do these neglected works a great service. The fine playing in that Second Symphony’s scherzo shows how good they are!
The booklet contains extensive essays about Alnæs and the symphonies by Audun Jonassen and the recording is both rich – partly due to the generous acoustics of Riga’s Reforma Baznika – and sufficiently detailed to capture Alnæs’s sometimes delicate orchestration. And what a pleasure it is to welcome Sterling into the ranks of labels issuing SACDs. The stereo mix is excellent and the multichannel option provides discreet ambience opening up the sound stage. While the booklet doesn’t go into details of resolution and equipment used, Arne Akselberg and his team seem to me to have done a very fine job recording these works.
Enthusiasts of Romantic orchestral music will want to investigate this excellent release.
— Peter Joelson