Vagn Holmboe: Solo & Chamber Works For Guitar

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HOLMBOE Sonatas for Guitar: No. 1; No. 2. Five Intermezzi for Guitar. Duo Concertato for Violin and Guitar. Parlare del più e del meno. Canto e Danza for Recorder and Guitar. Seven Folk Ballads for Recorder and Guitar Jesper Sivebæk (gtr); Johannes Søe Hansen (vn); Bolette Roed (rcr) DACAPO 8.226143 (71:20)

Danish composer Vagn Holmboe began writing for the guitar late in his career, at the age of 70, and then continued to create works for the instrument for another 13 years. It’s not clear what drew him to the instrument. He said little about it other than to comment that he wanted to write for it, and so he did. He first composed more formal works—two sonatas—to avoid folk associations. Each is a suite of thematically related pieces, worked out in the organic way that he typically developed his material, and very concise, especially the second of these. Folk qualities were impossible to avoid, however, as a quick listen to almost any of the works here will demonstrate. Still, this is hardly Holmboe taking up “light music” at the end of his life, for there is much complexity and sophistication of invention, as well. The Five Intermezzi , which followed two years later in 1981, are of a similar character, but the composer is starting to actually embrace the folk connections, using a folk-like melody of obvious Spanish flavor as a unifying theme, and adding characteristic rhythmic percussive effects and shifting meters as well.

In 1983, he went further with Seven Folk Ballads , employing actual folk tunes from England, Israel, France, Ukraine, and his native Denmark. The original intent was to create duos for balalaika and guitar, but eventually the composer opted for the more complementary sound of the recorder. The setting of each tune, beginning with the familiar The Three Ravens from England, captures the character of the folk melody with simplicity and grace. In the Duo Concertato for Violin and Guitar (1986) the violin adds an Eastern European quality as the two instruments engage in a witty and sometimes dramatic conversation. In the last solo work, the introspective Parlare del più e del meno (1988), the conversation becomes a monolog, internalized in five very short movements of great density, rhythmic freedom, and centered calm, while the last chamber work for guitar, Canto e Danza , written in 1992 when Holmboe was 83, is a set of variations on a Spanish harvest song, in three contrasting movements, followed by a lively baroque dance movement which sounds like the work of a much younger man. His exploration of the instrument was thorough, to say the least.

The stylistic rather than strictly chronological structuring of the CD program, working from the more serious sonatas to the encore-like folk ballads, works beautifully. The performers, all outstanding Danish musicians, capture the delicate personality of each work perfectly, most especially guitarist Jesper Sivebæk. The engineering is first-rate, with a palpable sense of those performers in a real space. There are fine notes on the music. The music has charm and substance. I really can’t think of a better way to invest 70 minutes, whether for heart or head.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8226143

  • UPC: 636943614327

  • Label: Dacapo

  • Composer: Vagn Holmboe

  • Performer: Bolette Roed, Jesper Sivebaek, Johannes Soe Hansen