Oh my goodness, what a splendid disc this is! Anyone who, like I, thinks Dag Wiren is kind of a second-rate composer known only for his delightful, if slight, Serenade for Strings, will be in for a very pleasant surprise!
The familiar Serenade is included and comes second on this program. It is as charming and lovely as ever under Rumon Gamba's alert direction. But it's the rest of the disc that is a complete revelation. The other selections on offer reveal a more substantive and mature composer than we might have expected. While the Sinfonietta has a similar, appealing quality as the Serenade (written just a couple of years before it - in 1933), the Divertimento takes on a heavier, more serious mood. I was perhaps not surprised to learn it is the latest composition of this group, completed as recently as 1957. The Symphony is surely the most accomplished and fully developed of all. It is a mighty achievement, lasting nearly 25 minutes, and deserves to better known. I found it interesting the disc begins with the Symphony and ends on a lighter note with the Sinfonietta. However, all of this music has much of the same appealing and inviting flavor as the familiar Serenade.
Rumon Gamba has proven time and again to be a most innovative and imaginative conductor. Thankfully he has the full support of Chandos to bring his insight to fruition. Witness also his 6-disc exploration of another rather neglected composer, Vincent D'Indy, and also his multi-disc collection of film music in the wonderful "Chandos Movies" series. The record-buying public are the sole beneficiaries of such a leading-edge combination of minds and talent. If only the "major" labels (I use the term loosely) would see things this way. But, as they continue to inundate the CD market with endless, irrelevant reissues, and whatever their latest "star" wants to play from the standard repertoire, they are becoming farther and farther from being considered a "major" anything with each passing month. Instead, rising to the top are the real heroes and saviors of Classical music: labels such as Chandos, Naxos, Pentatone, BIS, and others.
Meanwhile, this Dag Wiren disc is a thoroughly enjoyable exploration of this composer. Anyone who enjoys his most famous work, the Serenade for Strings, will likely find much else to enjoy on this disc. The playing is glorious. The conducting is magnificent. And, as usual, Chandos's SACD sound is simply superlative. I look forward to future installments of music from this composer.