Vagn Holmboe – Kairos

0 of 5 stars

Kairos (Sinfonias I-IV) [I. Preludio (first movement of Sinfonia IV, Op.73d – II. Sinfonia I, Op.73a – III. Interludio I (second movement of Sinfonia IV) – IV. Sinfonia II, Op.73b – V. Interludio II (third movement of Sinfonia IV) – VI. Sinfonia III, Op.73c – VII. Postludio (fourth movement of Sinfonia IV)]
Sinfonia IV, Op.73d [performable separately]

Camerata Wales
Owain Arwel Hughes

Recorded December 2005 in Parish Church of St Jude-on-the-Hill, London NW11

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: November 2009
Duration: 75 minutes



The Danish composer Vagn Holmboe (1909-96) left us thirteen symphonies and twenty-one string quartets, all now recorded, the symphonies also on BIS.

Kairos, its seven movements playing for an hour, is made-up of Holmboe’s four Sinfonias (for strings) and is laid-out so that the four movements [Preludio – Interludio I – Interludio II – Postludio] of Sinfonia IV “frame and separate the first three sinfonias”, all of which are cast in single movements, the most substantial being the 20-minute Sinfonia II.

This is music of remarkable invention – spare, reflective beauty (perhaps reminding from time to time of Britten’s “Les Illuminations”) that draws you in and which contrasts with outdoors, bracing textures, lean-sounding invention with every note and inflection mattering, the meditative passages demanding of the listener’s concentration and becoming an absorbing and haunting experience.

Holmboe has created something for the mind and the senses – it makes you think, and imagine. But the whole is not as black and white as the use of a relatively small group of strings might suggest; nor is the expression as limited as it might appear. Kairos needs to be experienced on an individual basis; somehow Holmboe’s music proves to be both very personal yet also universal. Occasionally there is a Sibelian glow, there is also likeness to Shostakovich’s music (without being as overwrought or consciously biographic as his) and the whole is strangely hypnotic.

Composed between 1957 and 1962, the four Sinfonias can be played as individual works, which can be achieved by tracking the three single-movement Sinfonias and BIS has thoughtfully presented Sinfonia IV as a separate work. Owain Arwel Hughes is a very experienced conductor of Holmboe’s music (he was at the helm of BIS’s symphony cycle) and here conjures with the musicians of Camerata Wales a very dedicated and sensitive performance that has been beautifully recorded. It is surprising to note that this Holmboe-undertaking has taken four years to be released, for it is altogether special.

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