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Briefly Noted: Larsson's Orchestral Works

available at Amazon
Lars-Erik Larsson, Orchestral Works, Vol. 2, Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, A. Manze

(released on November 13, 2015)
cpo 777672-2 | 69'53"

available at Amazon
Vol. 1
Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986), while not unknown on disc, is new to these ears. The single mention of him in these pages before now is because of Andrew Manze, in his work with the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, which has released two installments of Larsson's orchestral music on the CPO label, in beautifully detailed performances and sound. Manze left Helsingborg in 2014, to take up the post of Principal Conductor for the NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra in Hannover, so it is not clear how complete this series will ultimately be. Both of the volumes so far were actually recorded in 2011, which makes one hopeful that at least one more volume is on the way, with the third of Larsson's symphonies. Next on our wishlist would be Larsson's sole opera, Prinsessan av Cypern (The Princess of Cyprus).

Larsson's second symphony, the centerpiece of the second volume, dates from 1936 to 1937. Larsson, a polystylist, here channels a quite delightful Romantic idiom, with the best sort of echoes from Tchaikovsky or Dvořák. While there are touches of the sound of Sibelius in the second, Larsson seemed closer to the influence of the Finnish composer in his first symphony, from a decade earlier and recorded on the first volume, which has a steely opening brass section of the first movement, for example, redolent of that Sibelius sonic bloom. Another piece recalling the theatrical music of Sibelius is En Vintersaga, also from the 1930s, a piece with some of the forlorn melodic writing and innovative harmony we love in the Finnish composer, in four sketches that were part of incidental music for Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale.

In his middle period, in the decades after World War II, Larsson did not ignore developments in serialism, turning to a more contemporary, dissonant idiom in the Orchestral Variations (op. 50, 1962). Larsson's work represents more of the middle way with this kind of technique, reflecting his studies with Alban Berg in Vienna, so that the piece is less jarring to the ear than one might expect. The Music for Orchestra (op. 40, 1948-1949) is in the same vein, quite diverting. Lest there be any doubt as to Larsson's talent as a mimic of musical styles, the second volume ends with the late orchestral suite Råå-rokoko (also known as Barococo, from 1973). In it Larsson returns to a more neoclassical frame of reference, using Baroque dance forms and including less than subtle references to Mozart in the Serenata and Menuett movements. The title refers to the commission of the music, a Rococo suite, by the town of Råå in Sweden, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Råå musiksällskap in 1974. Larsson gets downright Offenbachian in the concluding Galop, a sort of wink at severe serialism.

The Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra had already recorded some of Larsson's works, under Hans-Peter Frank, including the second symphony (embedded below).

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