Symphonies (1-4); Dithyramb; Spring Hymn; Intermezzo drammatico.
CPO 999 367 (Symphony No. 1/Dithyramb/Spring Hymn)
CPO 999 369 (Symphonies 3 and 4)
In recent reviews of symphonies by Kurt Atterberg and Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, I neglected to include Ture Rangström (1884-1947) among Sweden's foremost composers of a period that ended at midcentury -- a neglect the more serious because his best music ranks with the symphonies of Hugo Alfvén and Atterberg. Indeed, one might liken him to Carl Nielsen. As Atterberg and Peterson-Berger did, he supplemented composing by writing music criticism and conducting, notably at Gothenburg between 1922 and '25. His vocabulary was more conservative than Atterberg's -- more like Alfvén's, although less Richard-Straussy -- but his rhythmic vivacity and melodic profile took second place to none.
Now we have up-to-date recordings of all four symphonies (written between 1914 and 1936), all of them subtitled, plus three shorter but characterful pieces, played with verve by an orchestra the Swedes pronounce "Norr-shepping" under a dedicated and enlivening leader. The First is, typically, the least compelling, although it bears the subscription "August Strindberg in memoriam," which is not to imply inferior music. There's just not the technical assurance or thematic distinction found in Nos. 2-4.
Symphony No. 2, subtitled "My Country," followed in 1919. Each of its three movements are likewise subtitled: "The Fairy Tale," "The Forest, the Wave, the Summer Night," and "The Dream." Tunes may not be as memorable as Smetana's, who was the first to call a symphonic work "My Country," but Rangström's spirit is no less patriotic or impassioned. You don't have to be Swedish to be stirred.
Symphony No. 3, composed during the summer of 1929, is subtitled "Song under the Stars" -- a 22-minute work in one movement that begins Maestoso but is multi- sectional ("one can easily make out the usual symphonic scheme, fast-slow-scherzo-finale," Stig Jacobsson wrote in his generous annotation). It is a lyrical piece overall, "strangely dreamy," with a main theme that Rangström had created for his most famous song, "Prayer to the Night," five years earlier.
He began No. 4 -- originally "Invocation" -- in 1933 with a stand-alone organ piece that called out for a sequel. Rangstrõm orchestrated that "Invocation" in the form of a strictly developed passacaglia in the Doric mode...[then went] directly into a sort of perpetuum mobile toccata with a brilliant and original part for xylophone...rounded off by a well-balanced hymn." Two slow movements follow, the second of which (Recitativo ed arioso) Atterberg decided to excise when he performed it in 1943 -- the first time the work was called Symphony No. 4. In CPO's recording, this cut has been restored. The music ends with a brief, solemn Maestoso that quotes the Prelude. If balance overall is slightly off-center, better the composer's own asymetry -- he was not, after all, a Mussorgsky or Borodin in need of Rimsky-Korsakov's editorial reshaping -- than Atterberg's amendments.
The three additional pieces are welcome, as the entire set is, even though Norrköping's strings sometimes sound a couple of stands too few for ideal sonority. The music was a genuine pleasure to meet, and certainly will be revisited.