> Geirr Tveitt - Piano Concerto No. 4 [TM]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Geirr TVEITT (1908-1981)
Variations on a Folksong from Hardanger for two pianos and orchestra (1949) (30.54)
Piano Concerto No. 4 "Aurora Borealis", Op. 130 (1947) (29.57)
Håvard Gimse (piano); Gunilla Süssmann (piano)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Bjarte Engeset
Rec 7th – 12th January 2001 in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow
NAXOS 8.555761 [60.51]


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I have always been drawn to Nordic music. Maybe it’s the fact that my now-grey beard used to have lots of red in it. Maybe there’s a Viking berserker hidden inside me, trying to break out. Whatever the reason, I just plain like the music I hear coming out of the Nordic nations – and this disc proves to be no exception. This is raw powerful and emotional music that begs to be played again and again – quite a discovery.

Tveitt’s music is new to me. If you’re expecting a twentieth century Grieg, then think again! This is diabolical, demonic music in places, redolent of Nordic sprites and nymphs but also, oddly, containing something of the oriental, especially in the two-piano Variations. Big-boned, structurally sound and harmonically intriguing, both works are worthy of further study.

Looking up Tveitt’s biography led me to two conclusions. One that he was an extremely unlucky man – he built his own house at the end of an unmade road, which was inaccessible to a fire engine when a devastating fire broke out in 1970, resulting in the loss of 80% of his life’s work to that point! Second is that he lived in a different world from the rest of us: he claimed his Piano Concert No. 3 was subtitled "Homage to Brahms" because the composer had appeared to him in a dream and dictated it! Even so, I don’t think I was quite prepared for the effect his music had on me.

Sometimes known as the ‘Bartók of the North’ due to his almost obsessive collecting of folk tunes from the Hardanger region of Norway, Geirr Tveitt studied in Leipzig, Vienna and Paris, then became a teacher, critic and government music consultant in Oslo during the early years of World War Two. Much of his music derives from folk themes, and he uses ancient modes (which explains the oriental and barbaric feel of his music in places) and texts from the Norse sagas. Among his works are five operas (including one centred on the life of Polar explorer Roald Amundsen), two ballets, six piano concerti (of which two remain lost), two Hardanger fiddle concerti, two harp concerti and a host of chamber music. Some of his larger orchestral works, reconstructed by compatriots, have been released on the BIS label in recent years.

Among his collection of Norwegian music, Tveitt gathered well over a hundred Hardanger folk tunes, and one of them forms the basis for the first work on this disc, which is a single movement concerto for two pianos in all but name. The primitive, modal nature of the music makes it communicative at an almost visceral level – it is scarcely subtle music, but it is absorbing! The Piano Concerto No. 4 continues in similar vein, reminding the listener here of Rimsky-Korsakov and Prokofiev, there of Neilsen and even shades of Malcolm Arnold peering through!

The performances by Gimse and Süssmann are convincing and show a deep feel for the music, ably steered through its occasionally tortuous course by Bjarte Engeset – a conductor of whom, I suspect, we are slated to hear more. The sound is as clear and rich as one has come to expect of Naxos, and the notes live up to their usual informative high standard. All in all, this is a release of fascinating twentieth century music that should not be missed for its sheer eclecticism. It’s not "essential listening" – but it will reward!

Tim Mahon

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