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Symphony No. 3

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<< Continued from yesterday

Moving on to the second movement, here the evident lack of detail showing in Willén's reading turns the slow movement into a funeral march, whereas the composer shapes the music into an airy dance that defies even the merest thought of Willén's slowly-shaped lines:

Compare the first minute of the second movement of Willén's and the composer's versions by clicking on the links:


Alfvén          Willén


I know I might seem like a grumpy reviewer who never gives credit where credit is due, for sure, if I neglect the fact that Alfvén's third symphony is symphonic music and 'simply' see it as orchestral music, then it's hard to fault Willén's way of reading this music. What he does is beautiful, succulent even soothing. The way he turns everything into the longest musical lines that look beyond the horizon may not be wrong and it may give pleasure to most, but it lacks the effervescence that it needs if we consider it symphonic. Willén turns it into something very close to what the British call 'Light Music', a musical style not that far from the major part of Alfvén's musical output, generally more conservative than the composer's own recordings disclose.

NAXOS 8.553729 - Alfvén: Symphony No.3Willén's interpreting skill is better served with the two tone poems that fill the disc, both compare well with what Järvi gives us on Bis [note 1]. Both are important but minor works, closer to the Swede than the symphonies, thus rather more frequently recorded. [note 2]

Is then this new recording recommendable? If you are new to Alfvén's music, it gives a fair view of his musical craft (and at Naxos' price, it's one of their usual bargains), but if you want to find the composer behind the music, then there's no alternative to his own recordings, available today as a three CD set on Phono Suecia [PSCD 109:1/3] featuring the symphonies, major tone poems and major choral works, and the legendary (First Swedish stereo recording) on Swedish Society Discofil [SCD 1003] [note 3] featuring; 'the midsummer virgil', 'the mountain king' suite and 'the prodigal son' suite.

Copyright © Peter Lundin, July 12th 1999


1: Järvi's series on Bis features all the symphonies and a mix of the tone poems/Rhapsodies.

2: The new Alfvén series on Naxos will, as far as I know, feature all the symphonies (1 - 3 are available now) and the major tone poems.

3: Swedish Society Discofil have also disclosed plans to release a complete series of Alfvén symphonies from their recordings made during the sixties.



SYMPHONY No. 3 (Orchestral Works Vol. 2)

CD also features:
Swedish Rhapsody No. 3, Op. 47 (Dalarapsodi)
Legend of the Skerries, Op. 20 (en Skärgårdssägen)

Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Niklas Willén

Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow
on 1st and 2nd February, 1996

Producer and Engineer: Tim Handley
Music notes: Sven Kruckenberg

NAXOS 8.553729       DDD Stereo      78'46



Selected comparison:


Järvi - Stockholm PO (Bis CD-455, 1989)

Grevillius - Stockholm PO (Swedish Society Discofil SCD 1004, 1964)

Alfvén - Konsertföreningens Orkester (Phono Suecia PSCD 109/1, 1950)

(Please note that Alfvén's own recording is taken from the 1950s tapes, in mono. Some tape noise and print-through echo is audible, which some might find bothersome.)

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