CD: Christian Sinding: Symphonies Nos 3 and 4 (Winter and Spring): North German Radio PO/ Porcelijn - The Guardian

The Guardian 9 July 2004

13/07/2004 :: The Norwegian Christian Sinding has long been regarded as a "one-work composer", remembered only for his evocative little piano piece, Rustle of Spring. As a result, he has unfairly been categorised as a miniaturist, whereas, far more than his compatriot Grieg, he was attracted to larger forms, and over his long career he produced symphonies, concertos and sonatas as well as songs and piano pieces. Another big difference from Grieg - his senior by 13 years - was that he was influenced very little by Norwegian folk-music, remaining true to his training in Leipzig, with the German tradition his main model. It did not help his reputation when, in his 80s, as an admirer of Germany he praised Hitler. Ironically, he died in 1941 when Norway was occupied by the Nazis.
His style, established in early works such as the first of the violin sonatas on the ASV disc, hardly developed, yet what all these works demonstrate is his great ability to command attention during opening themes. On this showing he can match almost any composer in the exhilaration he conveys at the start of his longest, most ambitious work, Symphony No 3, completed in 1919 when he was 73, and first performed the following year under Artur Nikisch.

In a leaping 9/8 compound-time, the first theme enters with horns whooping, leading to a second subject, which echoes the Rhine motif in Wagner's Ring cycle. This is the music of a young-sounding composer rather than of a septuagenarian, and though the slow movement is less striking, the skipping dance-rhythms of the scherzo and the strong, Meistersinger-like tread of the celebratory finale, are again exhilarating.

The Symphony No 4, like No 3 warmly and colourfully performed under the Dutch conductor David Porcelijn is structurally more adventurous. Its linked sequence of seven sections in cyclic form reflects one of Sinding's own poems about Winter leading to Spring, and offers a satisfying one-movement symphonic structure not so different in shape from Sibelius's Seventh.

Amazingly, the piece was produced for Sinding's 80th birthday. The North German Radio recording is first-rate. The three violin works on the ASV disc date from much earlier, but have similar qualities. Like the Symphony No 3, the C major Violin Sonata starts with another surging theme leaping in compound-time, while the F major work is warmly Brahmsian in its sequence of attractive ideas.

The Suite, written at the same time as the C major work, is like a sonata with a shortened first movement. A strong opening theme with baroque violin flourishes leads to a lyrical second subject, which instead of developing in sonata form takes you straight back to the opening theme. An amiable piece, like the sonatas very well performed and recorded by the Italians Marco Rogliano and Maurizio Paciariello.

Edward Greenfield

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