Bo Holten: The Emperor's New Clothes; Oboe Concerto; Songs of Dusk. © 2020 Dacapo Records

CD Spotlight

A Memorable Recording

Music by Bo Holten, heard by GEOFF PEARCE

'... storytelling at its best.'


This is a very interesting disc featuring the music of Bo Holten (born 1948), one of the most popular Danish composers, and the fact that it contains an oboe concerto performed by Max Artved, one of my favourite oboists, was a good reason to get it. The composer is conducting these works and directing the excellent Odense Symphony Orchestra and a fine field of soloists.

Of all the works on the disc, I was most taken with the first work, The Emperor's New Clothes, from 2004. This little concert opera is short, and retells the famous Hans Christian Andersen story. This engaging work is storytelling at its best. The music is melodic and tonal, and the work is beautifully orchestrated. It is easy to see why this composer is so popular.

Listen — Bo Holten: Weaving - Shuttles Flying! (The Emperor's New Clothes)
(track 3, 0:14-0:57) ℗ 2020 Dacapo Records :

The two male vocal soloists and other forces obviously love this work - they colour the characters they portray in such a way that following the libretto is very enjoyable. Bo Holten has a unique and individual style and I think his music would have quite wide appeal.

Listen — Bo Holten: Clothes are sewn and the Emperor is dressed
(The Emperor's New Clothes)
(track 6, 0:47-1:44) ℗ 2020 Dacapo Records :

The next work is the Oboe Concerto (1995). For an oboe concerto, it is quite long and is inspired by the oboe's unique lyrical possibilities. As an instrument, it does not have a huge range, and a limited dynamic range - although a few performers have extended the range and dynamic possibilities - but it is an instrument with a wide emotional range. The work was written for Bjørn Carl Nielsen. The bulk of the music was written in Rome, and as the composer says, quite a significant amount of the thematic material is linked to that city. This is not a score that I particularly liked at first hearing, but it has rapidly grown on me, and I have come to like it very much. In the slow sections, the oboe soars above the orchestra and weaves its magic. I truly love the first of the two tarantellas. I am familiar with this tune from somewhere else, but for the life of me I can't think just quite where.

Listen — Bo Holten: Tarantella I (Oboe Concerto)
(track 9, 0:05-0:48) ℗ 2020 Dacapo Records :

The composer has a fine hand for contrapuntal writing and very deft orchestration - the oboe is never swamped, and there is clarity so that every part is revealed. This is not a war horse for the oboe, but there are certainly passages requiring virtuosity, although it is not flashy. In one of the cadenzas, the composer require some interesting slow glissandi. This is not very easy to effect well, but the writing, against two horns, and the skill of the soloist, make this a particularly poignant section.

Listen — Bo Holten: Cadenza (Oboe Concerto)
(track 10, 2:57-3:42) ℗ 2020 Dacapo Records :

The orchestra and the most excellent Max Artved on oboe make this a memorable recording. He is an expressive player of considerable technical ability and produces a very attractive sound. There are also a number of well-known musical references towards the end of the concerto.

The last work on the disc is Songs of Dusk (1987), which is a song cycle for soprano, bassson and orchestra based on poems by Danish writer Sophus Claussen. There are eight songs in the cycle. The composer spent some time studying the bassoon, so in some songs the instrument assumes an obbligato role.

Listen — Bo Holten: Spleen of the moon (Songs of Dusk)
(track 17, 0:00-0:50) ℗ 2020 Dacapo Records :

The cycle is really a single piece and the songs are linked with recurring themes and a series of 'atmospheres'. The orchestral writing delicately supports the singer, Christine Nonbo Andersen, emerging from time to time to take the spotlight, before subsiding.

There is some sumptuous writing here and the performers are certainly sensitive to the spirit of the work. I do find the singer to be somewhat grating, however, particularly on high notes. I think she is more effective in the faster songs and generally I preferred these, especially the seventh song, Kærlighed (Love).

Listen — Bo Holten: Love (Songs of Dusk)
(track 20, 0:00-0:25) ℗ 2020 Dacapo Records :

The last song is quite arresting. It is slow and there is a lot of inner tension. It ends abruptly, leaving a question hanging in the air. As the composer is directing, I am sure that he selected the soloist with care, and there are certainly passages that she sings with an attractive lyrical quality.

This is a disc that will delight many listeners and I do hope that it gives Bo Holten wider recognition outside his native Denmark. His music is engaging and his technical skills are impressive, but at no time does it appear to me as music trying to be clever. The booklet that came with the CD gives valuable insight, but the case design was poor - I was able to take the booklet out to read it, but it defies my putting it back in place so I can close the case. Plastic CD cases are generally quite fragile, and not that good. This is something that producers might perhaps consider when releasing new recordings.

Copyright © 27 December 2020 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia








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