Having been competely foxed by one of Patrick Waller's sound extract
quizzes and having found out that the composer was Valen I was
keen to tackle this disc.
It is declared as "volume 1"
so there will be more to come. Rather like Chandos, Bis are
masters of commitment to the long haul major project.
I had come to appreciate the very compact
Valen Violin Concerto in a performance by Arve Tellefesen
taken from an NKF LP. A friend had sent me a cassette of this
back almost thirty years ago. I had also invested in the two
CD set of the four Valen symphonies (NIM CDN31000-1, Bergen
Philharmonic/Aldo Ceccato) when this was issued during the
1980s although I found myself not at all receptive at that
Valen as a composer was seized by music
as a vocation - rather like his parents who travelled to Madagascar
as missionaries. He studied in Germany in the 1910s and after
an immersion in the denser romantic classics found his way
to Schoenberg and Berg. They are indelibly imprinted on his
music but matched with Gallic delicacy.
An often pointillistic dissonance grips
his music. His Bergian Pastorale is a brief and lullingly
motionless portrait of the composer's rose garden. Then come
the two op. 17 pieces. The first has the shiver and dankness
of Bridge's There is a Willow. It's all very fastidiously
orchestrated with much soloistic work floating free from an
already sensitive orchestral weave. An expressionistic dissonance
saturates both pieces and there are moments in the Cantico
where the romantic complexity of Zemlinsky is suggested.
The four-movement First Symphony has the
darting, probing energy and voltage of the Hartmann symphonies.
Dissonance is still deployed but by contrast with the earlier
three pieces there is a greater sense of momentum and forward
movement. The music twists and turns in mood between strained
anxiety, disillusion and angry outbursts. The impudent oboe
in the third movement ushers in quick-moving music. The finale
returns to the angst and tension of earlier movements in a
way that suggests conflict. World events may have explained
this although I suspect that our eagerness to make a linkage
of music to politics and current affairs can be misguided.
The 13 minute Violin Concerto was intended
as a memorial to his godchild Arne Valen who had died of tuberculosis
in 1936. This was the year of the premiere of the Berg Violin
Concerto dedicated to Manon Gropius who had also died in childhood.
The Valen work was quickly completed but it was the performance
at the 1948 ISCM festival that saw it and Valen's name
take a hold on world attention. The music and mood is not
as tense or aggressive as those of the First Symphony. Båtnes's
vibrantly searching but clear-toned playing - assertively
captured by the engineers - leads the listener onwards. The
music has more in common with the Pastorale and the
Op. 17 pair than with the First Symphony. The violin line
is quite romantic and for the most part the dissonance arises
from the orchestral texturing. It's an impressive lyrical
yet astringent piece and well worth exploring if you like
the Berg or the Frankel.
Following this pattern we can expect at
least three other volumes each with a Valen symphony as a
centre-piece. Bis certainly have no reason to move the project
away from Stavanger.