LUNDQUIST: Symphony No. 2, “…for freedom.” * Symphony No. 9, “Survival” + / *Stockholm Philharmonic Orch., Stig Westerberg, cond; +Utah Symphony Orch., Roy Goodman, cond / Sterling Modern CDA3006 (live: *September 27, 1972 & +April 22, 1999)
These are the first official releases of historic performances of two symphonies by Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist (1920-2000), a modernist Swedish composer who wrote music “using a special technique, in which [a] large form is made from large musical blocks.”
Although his second symphony was not premiered until 1971, Lundquist admitted that he began it as early as 1956, when “we in Sweden found out the bloody defeat of the so-called Hungarian revolt. And it is a significant coincidence that similar things happened in Czechoslovakia in August 1968, at the time I was finishing the finale movement.” This is what your lovely Socialism brings to countries, boys and girls. Please take note. Socialism and Communism are governments you can elect into power, but you have to shoot your way out of.
Needless to say, it is a powerful, angst-ridden work, much like the Shostakovich Seventh and Vaughan Williams Sixth Symphonies, but Lundquist’s musical lexicon is different from theirs. Moreover, although he admitted using “large musical blocks,” these blocks are not simply lumps of astringent sound, as so many composers are addicted to today, but real themes developed and built upon. Thus the music not only has forward momentum but also forward movement, and despite its modern dissonances it is not terribly difficult to follow. Insofar as layout is concerned, Lundquist’s music is as clear in form as that of Brahms or Stravinsky. He did not follow in the more amorphous footsteps of Mahler, for instance, as some 20th-century symphonists did. Yet in its representation of the inexorable tread of soldiers and tanks, its first movement in particular seems to be a cousin of the first movement of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Interestingly, however, the symphony’s four movements are linked so that they sound like one continuous movement, and although the tempi vary somewhat the mood remains pretty much the same—grim—throughout.
Lundquist also seems to have had his own feel for orchestral color. He almost consistently uses very “close” scoring with frequent string and brass blends, which gave his orchestra an edgy sound even when the music itself was not always so. What this means is that, even in the soft passages, one always feels an undercurrent of unease if not specifically menace, which adds to the overall feel of the score.
The Ninth Symphony, subtitled “Survival,” is a one-movement work that the liner notes indicate is “an opera without words.” As for the title, they suggest that “it can be applied onto the matter of survival of the individual as well as humanity.” Although a Tenth Symphony was found after his death, this was his last published symphony, and in it once can clearly hear the use of an alto saxophone. The music is dramatic but not as heaven-storming as his Second; it sounds a bit more rugged as well as taking a slower pace, suggesting a dogged indomitability. Interestingly, the alto sax plays so prominent a role that at times it could be mistaken for a saxophone concerto. In this symphony, I also noted a greater use of counterpoint in the underlying music in addition to a stronger reliance on the tympani to urge the music forward in its more dramatic passages. I wonder, however, how much of the greater lyricism of this symphony is Lundquist’s intent and how much is due to the conducting style of Roy Goodman, who started out as a boy alto and thus had more of a connection to vocal music than Westerberg. Either way, it seemed to me an effective performance as it does not lack for drama or depth of feeling. Interestingly, this symphony fades away into silence at the end and, in a sense, almost seems too short—or, at least, somewhat inconclusive.
This is a particularly valuable album which complements Sterling’s previous release of his Third and Fourth Symphonies, one conducted by the composer and the other by Sixten Ehrling. Poor Lundquist is little known and promoted outside his home country, and this is a shame. Highly recommended.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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