Sivelöv Symphonies 1 & 5

Niklas Sivelöv (b.1968)
Symphony No. 1 (2013)
Symphony No. 5 (2020)
Malmö Opera Orchestra/Joachim Gustafsson
rec. 2021, Malmö, Sweden
NAXOS 8.574508 [59]

Niklas Sivelöv is a Swedish concert pianist, composer and teacher. Born in Skellefteå in Northern Sweden, his ancestors hail from Karelia and Northern Finland. He’s recorded a substantial discography as a pianist, and his own compositions have registered a notable presence on both the Toccata and Naxos labels. MusicWeb colleagues have championed his cause with some positive reviews of his orchestral works (review), piano concertos (review) and solo piano music (review). In the last ten years Sivelöv the composer has been on a roll, having completed six symphonies, with a seventh in the pipeline.

His symphonic journey began in 2013 following the birth of his son in July of that year. The First Symphony is in three movements. It bears the title ‘Nordico’, and draws its inspiration from the northern climes of Sweden, where he was brought up. Echoes of Sibelius are also present. The first movement makes a confident entry with epic force. The booklet notes refer to its “cinematic” character with its propulsive energy alternating with more spacious and expressive moments. The vivid orchestral colours are a consistently thrilling experience to behold. The central movement is a slow, sombre and elegiac affair. It was originally titled ‘Ode to Edward Munch”. Like the painter’s famous painting ‘The Scream’, the music is restive, brooding and edgy as it sleepwalks through alien and otherworldly landscapes. At the movement’s climax there’s an empty fermata bar, allowing the orchestral players their own “silent scream”. The composer originally titled the final movement “Firedance of the Witches”. Rhythmic tussles and syncopations influenced by the music of Miles Davis register with dramatic and startling impact. The orchestration showcases an impressive colour range. As we draw near to the close, ostinato accompaniment helps ratchet up the tension and the curtain finally closes abruptly to a brilliant coruscating whirlwind of terror.

The Fifth Symphony, described as a two-movement “dyptych”, dates from 2020. Rather than contrasting movements, the two “panels” are cut from the same cloth; the composer originally intended a single movement work. There’s a role for the piano in the scheme. The first movement is a theme and variations, with each orchestral instrument being given its moment in the sun. The lovely second movement derives from a jazz ballad Sivelöv wrote about one of his cats called Ringo, who crept silently around the house. Everything in this movement is kept under wraps, both quiet and restrained. The Fifth Symphony, as a whole, is a far cry from No. 1. There’s less drama, less intensity and less flamboyance.

The recorded sound is exemplary, allowing all the instrumental detail to be fully savoured. The Malmö Opera Orchestra under the inspirational direction of Joachim Gustafsson offer enthusiastic and convincing performances. Paul Mann’s annotations provide an interesting analysis of the works played, but it’s a pity the booklet gives no information about the composer. Neither are there any track timings. Yet, all told, Sivelöv’s music has an appealing freshness and makes for a compelling listen.

Stephen Greenbank

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