WIRÉN: Symphony No. 2, Op. 14 (1939); Symphony No.3, Op.20 (1944); Concert Overture No. 1, Op.2 (1931-2); Concert Overture No.2, Op.16 (1940-1)
Norrk–ping Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard, cond.
cpo 999 677 (F) (DDD)  TT: 65:38

Most record collectors know Dag WirÈn, if at all, only from his pleasant but hardly profound Serenade for Strings. The present release should win him wider respect as a symphonist of stature.

WirÈn's idiom, typically for a tonal symphonist working around World War II, encompasses both Romantic and more modern elements. The former include a preference for dark, string-dominated sonorities, enlivened by variegated woodwind and horn timbres; the use of instruments in thirds, particularly clarinets, producing a folksong flavor; and a pastoral strain evoking Dvorák's "ethnic" music. Contrasting this are spare textures, angular motifs, and, frequently, an underlying restlessness. Echoes of other composers abound, though without compromising WirÈn's distinctive voice. Sibelius's shadow looms large in Symphony 3, in the opening repeated string scales over a pedal bass at the start, and the slow movement's staccato woodwinds over vibrant strings. At other times, WirÈn's lyric breadth, evoking wide-open spaces, unexpectedly recalls Copland's "Americana" mode!

The bubbling, pastoral opening of Symphony 2 (1939) is deceptive, its dotted motif quickly becoming an insistent ostinato behind an ominous bassoon duet. The second theme, introduced by unison flutes, develops into a full, spacious orchestral canon. Parts of the development turn nervous and angular, but the music remains accessible throughout. The central movement begins as an uneasy adagio, its repeated oboe notes recalling Bruckner; a full-throated horn duet introduces a scherzo-like section, sounding very modern in duple meter, before returning pensively to the adagio. The finale is a bit discursive, though unfailingly beautiful.

The generally sparse, Sibelian textures and motifs of Symphony 3, completed just five years later, immediately strike a more modern profile. The severe first movement builds into driving climaxes. Mild dissonances sustain tension through the peacefully singing slow movement; then the finale crashes in with sharp, violent energy, maintaining a motile undercurrent even in its quieter moments, building into a stark, dramatic climax.

One might expect the composer of a string serenade to be a master of short forms, but the two concert overtures are less impressive. The first overture has an appealing pastoral second theme, but the quiet pages at the close sound a bit too dense. The second is harder-edged, its more austere harmonies producing a granitic effect, relieved briefly by crisp, perky woodwind marches.

One could question Thomas Dausgaard's interpretations on some details—the precipitate acceleration in the first movement of Symphony 3, the soggy ending of the second concert overture—but overall his work, responsive to the richly colored scoring, is most impressive. The Norrk–ping Symphony plays with warmth and commitment. The recording is Chandos-done-right:  a plush, round sonority with consistently clear definition and vivid detail. The brass choir registers with impact and organlike fullness. As more frequently seems the case nowadays, tympani rolls can obscure the climactic textures.

S.F.V. (March 2001)