ANDERS ELIASSON (1947-2013): Symphony No. 3 for Soprano Saxophone and Orchestra (Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra; Johannes Gustavsson), Trombone Concerto, Symphony No. 4 (Christian Lindberg [trombone], Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra; Sakari Oramo).
Catalogue Number: 01X008
Format: SACD hybrid
Description: Three major scores from this endlessly inventive and original composer (see also 01Q059, 08P001, 12K103). The Third Symphony is not exactly a world première recording, though in this version it is. The work was originally written in 1989 for alto saxophone, with the subtitle "Sinfonia concertante", for the brilliant and flamboyant virtuoso John-Edward Kelly, a long-time friend and champion of Eliasson. There seems to have developed something of a rift between composer and soloist, both of whom might legitimately be described as "difficult" characters, and Eliasson produced this version in 2010, for soprano saxophone. Reading between the lines, there is clearly more to this than meets the eye, and the booklet notes here, as much by omission as content, suggest a degree of score-settling by various parties. Be that as it may, the symphony is a work of outstanding brilliance and dramatic depth, extraordinary energy that can change from frenzied to ecstatic in a heartbeat. The symphony’s dramatic arc is clear from the succession of movements; ‘Quest', ‘Solitude’, ‘Shuddering’, 'Tragic', and 'Mists’. The first movement opens in media res, the music in a state of the utmost restlessness and agitation. Eliasson's idiom, buoyant and volant, is particularly effective here in conveying a sense of instability on account of its freedom from anchoring tonal relationships. "Solitudine" is desolate and desperately lonely; the soloist a lost soul in an echoing, comfortless wilderness. An agitated barrage of tom-toms announces the frenzied spasms of the following movement, a nightmarish marionette totentanz, the saxophone jerking and twitching like a thing possessed. Even the arrival of a climactic quasi-cadence fails to halt the mounting hysteria, which culminates in frantic screams from the soloist as the music crashes headlong into the "Lugubre" slow movement, the dark heart of the work, a descent into a saturnine netherworld of limitless impenetrable shadow. The music emerges from the dark into glowing morning mist, and fades from view in a brief epilogue. The Fourth Symphony, written 16 years later, is in a single span that divides into four distinct sections, though without abrupt transitions between them. It begins with an arresting call to attention, followed by a brisk allegro movement that seems to be all development, on account of the transformations and metamorphoses that begins as soon as a motivic fragment is presented. The general mood is thrusting and belligerent, escalating to an incendiary climax populated by strident thunderclaps. A hollow, agitated quiet section follows, which accumulates tension and momentum, eventually turning into an even more cataclysmic, swirling climax which subsides into the "slow movement", which introduces an almost concertante flugelhorn part which dominates the texture in lonely, soaring roulades and long-spun quasi-improvisatory melodic lines. Halfway through the movement the music begins to assume an ominous aspect, heralding the arrival of the "Con moto, minaccioso" fast "finale", all obsessive pulsations and brusquely snatched motifs. Percussion lead a propulsive climax which evaporates into tempestuous flurries, and then the flugelhorn returns to preside over a desolate, exhausted coda. The Trombone Concerto (2000) was written for Lindberg. Perhaps as a wryly humorous touch, rather than beginning with the expected pyrotechnics the work has a restrained opening, and the trombone spends the introductory first section in lyrical mode, playing long, cantabile lines in a dark, tense environment. Eliasson even told Lindberg to play "like a caged bird", before suggesting that "the bird has already flown away". Soon enough, though, the orchestra picks up energy and the main body of the work commences, during which the soloist has scant repose, playing almost continuously in short, staccato note-values much of the time. Notably, though, wild virtuosic flourishes are rare, the trombone instead acting as a hyperactive initiator of the orchestra’s propulsive symphonic argument. Eventually the final, slow epilogue emerges with a return to the long-breathed lyricism of the introduction, now peaceful, resigned and melancholy.