Don’t be alarmed, there are certainly not a hundred
Hardanger tunes on this CD. In fact there are just 30; all of them beautifully
orchestrated. David Gallagher’s informative and witty booklet notes
explain that there are four suites in all, each of fifteen tunes. These
are numbered 1, 2, 4 and 5. Suite 3 is incomplete and there are sketches
for Suite 6. Even so that still does not come to a hundred but never
So what we have are two attractive orchestral suites
which use Folk material from the Hardanger Region of Western Norway
where Tveitt lived, or which were composed in a folk style. It is impossible
to tell which are which and it doesn’t matter, as the style of the music
is consistent throughout.
Geirr Tveitt was amazingly prolific. He studied in
Vienna and Paris with such composers as Honegger and Wellesz. He retained
his strong emotional connection with an area of his native Norway where
he spent many a childhood holiday and where he had seen at firsthand
the local instruments played and heard the local music. In 1942 he settled
permanently with his family in the Hardangerfjord. The CD booklet has
a lovely photograph dated about 1954 of the composer in local costume
seated with an indigenous instrument rather like a dulcimer.
Sadly a great deal of his music was lost in a tragic
fire at this farmstead in 1970. Naxos has recently released the two
Piano Concertos, and last summer, Suites 1 and 4. There are also, if
you look carefully, discs of his piano music. Nevertheless we shall
never know the full extent of his considerable output.
The Hardanger melodies are peculiar to the area; due
to the difficult terrain intercommunication between villages and towns
was only possible in summer so some tunes and stories were known only
within particular families.
Unlike the Suites 1 and 4 mentioned earlier the suites
on this CD do not have a narrative running through them but each piece
in itself is almost a short story. Realising this, Tveitt gave Suite
2 the overall title ‘Fifteen Mountain Songs’ with individual titles
like Mountain Cattle-Call. This is illustrated by gentle string
melodies and solo flute. Mountain girl skiing downhill is depicted
by a contra-bassoon introduction and a simple three bar melody repeated
sixteen times achieving a great climax.
The 5th Suite is entitled ‘Troll-tunes’
with titles such as ‘The Changeling’ (which might remind some listeners
of Mussorgsky) and the closing, intimidating Doomsday with its apocalyptic
At times I can hear that Tveitt knew Janacek well,
especially in the brass writing. The spaciousness of the music can seem
Coplandesque as David Gallagher remarks. I find also that I can hear
where Harold Saeverud is coming from, and even, in the block harmonies,
Jon Leifs. But one thing I can tell you for certain is that nowhere
is the music reminiscent of Grieg.
Naxos here continue their excellent policy of using
a conductor and/or orchestra from the composer's country. This has happened
whether the music is from Spain (Balada), America (Antheil), Britain
(Bax) and I think that this is a very good idea. Of course Music is
an international language and you are as likely to come across a superb
performance of Elgar by an American or Dutch Orchestra as you are by
a British orchestra, but there is also a feeling that with music which
is basically nationalist it is wise at least to find a conductor who
is ‘in sympathy’ with the repertoire especially when it is as rare as
this. Bjarte Engeset cares for and loves this music. The Scottish Orchestra
have a natural rapport with the music of the North. Between them they
coax this gorgeous music into shape without effort or artificiality.