Alfven: Symphony No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Festival Overture; The Mountain King; Uppsala Rhapsody. Niklas Willen, Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Naxos 8.553962.

Composer, conductor, and violinist Hugo Alfven (1872-1960) was among Sweden's most-popular classical composers of his day, and this Naxos collection presents a well-rounded picture of the man's work. Most of it sounds like late-Romantic fare, with an emphasis on the programmatic.

The selections begin with the Festival Overture, a somewhat blustery, bombastic piece that, nevertheless, makes a good, rousing curtain raiser. So, it works in the capacity for which the composer doubtless intended it. Maestro Niklas Willen and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra give it their all, and if one doesn't expect something more substantial, it does its job.

The suite that follows, from the ballet The Mountain King, is more temperate, a series of picturesque tone poems based on old Swedish legends. All four sections of the suite are colorful, the two middle parts the most charming. Overall, though, it sounds for the all the world like second-string Grieg. The Uppsala or Swedish Rhapsody that comes next is a cavalcade of familiar Swedish college songs, including a few drinking songs that the college that commissioned the work disapproved of. It bears a superficial resemblance to Brahms's Academic Festival Overture and comes to a stirring conclusion.

Niklas Willen
The real substance of the disc, however, is Alfven's Symphony No. 1, written in 1897 when the composer was only in his mid twenties. It is a serious work, though not somber. The first movement alternates between light and shadow, between playfulness and dead earnestness. It's hard to find a focus in this opening music, yet it seems to sum up the whole piece. The slow, second movement is overtly Romantic, with lush melodies in abundance. The Scherzo is somewhat too exuberant and becomes tiresome and repetitious. But the concluding Allegro is most engaging, weaving a balletic grace in with its weighty intentions, conductor Willen managing the high-wire act with an appropriate balance.

The sound Naxos provides for the Royal Scottish Orchestra is startlingly real, if a bit dark and heavy. In fact, it's rather huge in size, with a thunderously deep bass impact. The stereo spread is wide; the clarity, in spite of some mid-bass heaviness, is impressive; and the depth of field is more than adequate. This is what some people might have called a stereo spectacular in the old days. Today it's more commonplace to find good, dynamic sonics on a disc; but at a medium a price it comes as a pleasant bonus to some unusual music. Overall, the disc makes a release worth considering.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


No comments:

Post a Comment

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa