Symphony No. 3
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Hugo Alfvén represents the quintessence of the late romantic composer
in Sweden. Everything he did, he did with the utmost conviction, in his
youth studying the violin, later as a conductor and most obviously as a
composer, where his strong belief in melody and consonance reigns. Alfvén
might well be the role model for the artist of the time - he was a notorious
womaniser (a fact he never tried to hide). He had several affairs with married
women before meeting the Danish pastoralist painter P. S. Krøyer's
wife Marie on Sicily during the winter of 1901. Alfvén often writes
about the dualities of his life; his apparent conservatism mirroring his
passionate persona throughout his four-volume autobiography ('Första
satsen', 'Tempo Furioso', 'I dur och moll' and 'Final', written 1946 - 1952;
I do not believe that these are available in English translation),
the latter always in terms of himself being 'intoxicated with sensuousness'.
From what we know about his relationship with Marie Krøyer it was
love at first sight. Her then husband, who by modern standards (even today)
must have been an understanding person, accepted the destiny of his marriage.
Alfvén wrote his third symphony on a visit to Sori in Italy in
1905 with Marie. He writes about this in the second part of his autobiography,
...Behind the symphony I was about to commence hides no program,
this in contrast to the rhapsodies I had just finished... ...The music
I wrote in Sori does not portray abstractions, nor reality; it is just
a musical utterance addressing the delight I felt in existing, voicing
the sun-shimmering happiness that was flowing through me...
Thus Alfvén's third symphony became his Italian, despite the virtual
lack of even a remotely Italian musical connection, Alfvén, true
to his roots, shows his profound knowledge of the rural folk music of Sweden,
translating it (like in so many of his works) into an idiom of his own.
In the booklet of the Naxos CD under consideration here, distinguished Swedish
broadcaster and writer Sven Kruckenberg writes that 'the music of Hugo
Alfvén has always been close to the Swedish people'. This I believe
to be an historical truth - whether it is viable today has to be proven.
In this new recording we find the Swedish conductor Niklas Willén
expressing his thoughts on the matter. As with most Naxos CDs this account
is not bad at all, even if it lacks an inner touch that would make it great.
Throughout Willén chooses tempi that are on the far side of being
too slow, turning the symphony into a Korngoldian pastiche. Willén's
interpretation, much like Järvi on Bis, emphasises a musical sweetness
alien to the inner detail of Alfvén's creation, turning it into a
mere pastoral suite, finding a tone poem that Alfvén expressively
states does not exist. This I believe is discernible from the first note
Compare the first minute of the first movement of the four available
recordings by clicking on the links below:
Of these it's only the composer himself in a recording from 1950 that
gives the music a briskness that it strives for. To me there is a world
of difference in musical thought separating Alfvén's own interpretation
(which one must consider a standard of comparison) to that of Willén.
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Copyright © Peter Lundin,
July 11th 1999
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