Iceland SO prove Alfvén's no one hit wonder

The fourth in the Naxos Hugo Alfvén collection highlight the composer's greatest works on an intensely rewarding disc

Composer: Alfvén
Repertoire: Symphony No.4; Festival Overture
Artists: Ardnis Hall (soprano), Johann Valdimarsson (tenor); Iceland SO/Niklas Willén
Rating: 5/5 
Genre: Orchestral 
Label: Naxos 8.557284

Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960) tends to be thought of as a ‘one-work wonder’, known only for his Swedish Rhapsody No.1, ‘Midsummer Vigil’. This disc, the fourth in Naxos’s series of Alfvén recordings, ought to change that. The Festival Overture is an exuberant curtain-raiser but the Fourth Symphony, composed in 1919, is a truly wonderful work. Its programme, hinted at in the subtitle ‘From the Outermost Skerries’, was described by the composer as ‘the tale of two young souls. The action takes place in the skerries, where sea rages among the rocks on gloomy, stormy nights, by moonlight and sunshine… the moods of nature are no less symbols for the human heart.’ Besides being a remarkable musical evocation of the sea (its four sections are played as a single movement), its most striking feature is the use of a soprano and tenor vocalise (Nielsen had used the same device in the slow movement of his 1911 Sinfonia espansiva). Alfvén employs the wordless voices to conjure an atmosphere of chilling other-worldliness – of lost souls calling to each other in passages of almost erotic desire. This opulent, late-Romantic score is one of heightened emotions and drama, superbly played and sung, and an intensely rewarding discovery.  

Like this? Try this… Alfvén Symphony No.2 (Iceland SO/Willén) Naxos 8.555072