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Geirr TVEITT (1908-1981)
Prillar (1931) [37.05]
Sun God Symphony (1958) [20.55]
Stavanger Symphony Orchestra/Ole Kristian Ruud
rec. May 1999 (Sun); Sept 1999 (Prillar), Stavanger Concert Hall, Norway. DDD
BIS-CD-301027 [58.58]



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Tveitt's fortunes as a composer have stood much higher over the last five years. The fact that there are several Naxos CDs has boosted his coverage greatly; no doubt there will be more. This CD has unjustly dwelt in shadows. Bis's decision to include it in their 30th Anniversary Edition with a newly designed card slipcase is a wise move. The music strongly merits promotion.

We have read many times the tragic story of the loss of Tveitt’s manuscripts in a catastrophic fire at his farmhouse in 1970. It is however worth reminding ourselves of his education and background. He entered the Leipzig Conservatory in 1928 studying composition with Hermann Grabner and Leopold Weninger and piano with Otto Weinreich in 1932. His First Piano Concerto was premiered by the Leipzig Radio Symphony in 1930. 1932 and 1933 saw him in Paris and Vienna in company with Schmitt, Marx, Honegger, Villa-Lobos and Wellesz. He returned to Norway in 1933 and there developed a strong folk-informed style.

Prillar is a reference to a folk instrument - a goat's horn with a juniper reed. The rhapsodic three movement piece was intended as the start of an even larger project which never went any further. Ironically the score survived due to the composer's failure to get it performed. He ripped the score up and left the shreds in a barn. The barn survived the fire and the pieces were painstakingly assembled and any gaps filled by Jon Øivind Ness. Apart from the fact that it uses more sanguine and playfully vigorous music it can be compared in spirit with Joseph Marx's Natur-Trilogie (recently recorded on ASV). It is obstinately tonal, heavily reliant on melody with materials and styles of treatment that will remind you of Sibelius (Pohjola's Daughter and Nightride and Sunrise), Peterson-Berger (Second Symphony), Canteloube (the orchestral voices in the Chants d'Auvergne), Ravel (Rapsodie Espagnole) and Nielsen (middle movements of symphonies 3 and 4). There is even a hint of the barbaric triumph of a Williams or Rózsa score mixed with the angular storms and upheavals of Jon Leifs.

In 1938 Tveitt's 90 minute work Baldur's Dreams was performed in its full orchestral version in Oslo. It was making tentative concert hall progress outside Norway but the war intervened and sank it almost completely. The full score was another victim of the 1970 fire but two recordings and a piano version survived. From these Kaare Dyvik Husby has reconstructed the score of the Symphony from these sources. The three movements are from the third act of Baldur's Dreams.

The Sun God Symphony, drawn from Baldur's Dreams, is in three movements: The Gods forget the mistletoe; Baldur's Bonfire Journey; Arrow-Dance. Pohjola's Daughter by Sibelius is only the roughest approximation of the soundworld here which is noticeably tauter than in Prillar. The structure has the sense of discipline and cohesion absent from Prillar. The stubborn angularity and the drum thuds of the middle movement take us to Jon Leifs' orchestral pictures. The final movement portrays the shoals of arrows fired at the ‘invincible’ Baldur until Baldur's brother, Hod is tricked into firing an arrow made of wood from the mistletoe. Sure enough this finds the Nordic Achilles Heel and kills our hero in a coruscating blaze of Bartókian pyrotechnics and a groaning growl like that at the end of Ravel's Bolero.

These are world premiere recordings and they give every sign of being definitive. I never once doubted the intensity or conviction brought to this extraordinary and accessible music. Another gloriously enterprising choice to mark Bis's Thirtieth Anniversary.

Rob Barnett



Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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Musicweb sells the following labels
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