Lundquist’s Fifth & Eighth Symphonies

cover CDM3007

LUNDQUIST: Symphonies No. 8, “Kroumata”* & 5, “Die Wienerische” + / *Malmö Symphony Orch.; Kroumata Percussion Ens.; B. Tommy Andersson, cond; +Helsingborg Symphony Orch.; Torbjöorn Iwan Lundquist, cond / Sterling Modern CDM 3007-2 (live: +November 18, 1980 & *April 18, 2002)

Having reviewed and been impressed by Lundquist’s Second and Ninth Symphonies back in February of this year (it almost seems like an entirely different year at this point!), I of course wanted to review this new disc containing his Fifth and Eighth.

As I noted in my previous review, Lundqvist’s music is stark and edgy; one can hear in it the germination of today’s “modern-edgy” composition style that is so much in vogue; but his personal means of expression also includes a logical musical progression, which a great deal of modern music does not have. The Eighth Symphony grew out of a percussion piece, Sisa, which he had written in 1976 fir six musicians of the Stockholm Percussion Ensemble, which later changed their name to Kroumata. Lundquist wanted to write a symphony that included them, which he began in 1989 and completed in 1992, yet he stressed that this was a true symphony and not a percussion concerto. “Of course the percussionists play solo,” he wrote, “but so do the orchestral musicians to a large extent, strings as well as woodwind and brass.” What I found interesting about it was the way in which Lundquist used syncopation in this piece, and not just for the percussion players. There is a great deal of syncopation in the orchestral writing as well, in fact moreso for the string and brass sections.

Although in one continuous movement, there are three different sections, the ferocious opening softening into an “Andante” around the 11-minute mark, yet even here Lundquist used sharply biting trumpets before introducing a surprisingly lovely cello solo. The percussionists recede from the sound barrier as well, playing celesta and vibes as one also hears viola, viola, flute and clarinet solos. What’s interesting about this section is the arc of the music, the way in which Lundquist shapes these short phrases and merges them one into the other, to create a coherent whole. At about the 21-minute mark, an undercurrent of tension enters the picture; there is a break for a xylophone solo; then a terraced orchestral chord signifying that something different is coming—but it doesn’t appear just yet. Suddenly, at 21:32, the tempo jumps to a faster pace and we return to syncopation but in a slightly different form as Lundquist builds a quirky melody out of the mass of sound—and yet the symphony then reverts to slow, moody music and ends softly. A very interesting piece!

The Fifth Symphony, given here in a performance conducted by the composer himself, is an anomaly among the composer’s works; it was described when it premiered by one critic as a “Symphonic Interlude” because of its relatively lyrical profile and its lack of dependence on Lundquist’s principal theme, man’s relationship to nature. This symphony was also written for a smaller orchestra than usual for the composer, with just double woodwinds, two each of trumpets and trombones, percussion and strings. It was dedicated to the Halmstad Chamber Orchestra, which premiered it in February 1980; this performance comes from November of that year. Lundquist called it “Die Wienerische,” not referring so much to the city of Vienna as to the Viennese symphonic style of Haydn and Mozart, yet if one listens closely one can hear a 3/4 beat in the first movement. In addition, the music has a grace and charm that is quite different for the composer, yet it never wallows in schmaltz or unnecessarily “lovely” tunes as its models did.

The second movement, which opens with soft, grumbling bassoons, is clearly different from anything that Haydn or Mozart ever wrote; the melodic line is not exactly atonal, but certainly ambivalent regarding the home key, using higher chord positions without the root note. Then suddenly, at about 4:29, the tempo jumps up from “Poco lento” to “Allegro,” so quickly that the ear almost misses it; menacing brass and uneasy, tremulous strings come into the picture, underscored by tympani.

This fifth symphony is clearly more of a cerebral exercise and less of an inspired composition, yet it is satisfying just the same. And thankfully, we had digital sound in 1980 so the sonics are first-rate for a performance that is now 40 years old.

Another very fine disc in the Lundquist series. Go for it!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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