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Penguin Guide, January 2009

ALFVÉN: Symphony No. 2 / The Prodigal Son 8.555072
ALFVÉN: Symphony No. 3 / Legend of the Skerries 8.553729
ALFVÉN: Symphony No. 4, Op. 39 / Festival Overture, Op. 52 8.557284

The Second Symphony of 1899 put Alfvén firmly on the map. On Naxos it is coupled with The Prodigal Son ballet, which is a delight.

The sensitive, well-prepared performances under Niklas Willén also serve these symphonies well.

The Fourth is perhaps Alfvén’s most ambitious and in many ways most imaginative symphony and Alfvén takes a leaf out of Nielsen’s book by incorporating two wordless voices into the score in the manner of the Sinfonia espansiva. The Naxos version from Iceland is well played and is highly competitive, without necessarily being a first choice, unless the Naxos coupling is preferred.

John Sunier
Audiophile Audition, August 2004

This is the third in a series of Naxos recordings of the five Alfven symphonies, Nos. 1 and 3 having been previously released. The Swedish composer, who lived to 1960, is one of the leading Scandinavian composers and much of his music is colored by his birth in the Dalecarlia area of Sweden - the source of most Swedish folk music tradition. The symphony's first premiere in 1899 brought acclaim from critics that such an outstanding work came from only a 26-year-old. It is regarded as the first entry of internationalism into Swedish music. While not programmatic in nature, Alfven does explore some emotional depths and even a premonition of death, connected with two incidents (while swimming and boating) that nearly cost him his life. In contrast, the ballet is a very late work that celebrated the composer's 85th birthday. While based on the biblical legend it is an example of the composer's lighter style, the seven numbers being filled with Swedish polkas and festive marches.

Matthew Rye
BBC Music Magazine, April 2002

"Performances are better than serviceable."

Michael Jameson, November 2001

"Listen as Niklas Willén teases the skittish polka (No. 6) from Alfvén's 'The Prodigal Son' ballet suite, or steers his players through the vehement fugue that rounds out his Symphony No. 2, and you'll appreciate why this release commands unreserved praise. Ireland's NSO gives superlative performances, worthy alternatives to Neeme Jarvi's coolly efficient Royal Stockholm Philharmonic accounts on BIS. These works come to life in Willén's hands. For example, he infuses the third section (a festive march) of the ballet music with the requisite proud swagger, while the national dances that follow are engagingly characterised.

It's all helped by a superb recording, one of the best yet from Dublin's National Concert Hall. The sound is firmly focussed at the bass end (aiding the cellos' difficult lead passage at the start of the symphony's scherzo for example) but still bright and detailed across the registers, and pleasingly balanced. The chillier BIS recording is more forward, often exaggerating the brass. Willén's reading of the symphony is also outstanding. Jarvi's is generally quicker, the basic pulse more urgent, but never as rich in contrasts. Willen's longer-breathed Andante conjures a huge range of textures and sonorities, with the dark-hued horns and sombre lower winds particularly impressive. Both conductors direct the uplifting finale eloquently, but Willén's players give all they have in music that's probably new to them, and that extra effort is just one of the factors that makes these performances so compelling."

Andrew Achenbach

"Willen paces proceedings convincingly throughout (this particular listener's attention never warvered), and he draws some spruce and keenly responsive playing fom his fresh-faced Dublin band both [in Symphony no. 2] and in the charmingly relaxed 19-minute suite from Alfven's 1956-57 ballet, The Prodical Son. The sound, too, is undistractingly faithful. Easily, then the strongest instalment yet in Willen's continuing Alfveen symphony cycle for Naxos, and well worth investigating."

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