Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Alfven, Sweden's strongest symphonist

When I featured Stenhammar in this series one and a half year ago, I gave him the title Sweden's symphonist, and mentioned that he was the best of the two main Swedish composers (the other being Berwald). Late last year, I got hold of a CD box with the five symphonies by Hugo Alfven (1872-1960), and I rank him now as the best Swedish composer of all time, and certainly the best symphonist. I particularly like the massive 50 minutes fourth symphony from 1922 ("From the Outermost Skerries"), with its wordless cantilenas by tenor and soprano, a real masterpiece that should be heard by anybody interested in late romantic music. My Naxos recommendation for this composer is said symphony, coupled with the Festival overture. The performance by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra under Niklas Willen with Arndis Halla and Johann Valdimarsson is exemplary, as is the sound quality. Highly recommended - this is a name that should feature in any good classical music CD collection.