> Eivind Groven - Orchestral Music [NH]: Classical CD Reviews- June2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Eivind GROVEN (1901-1977)
Orchestral music

Piano Concerto (1947-1949)
Symphony No. 2 (1939-1945)
Wolfgang Plagge, piano
Trondheim Symphony Orchestra
Ole Kristian Ruud, conductor
Recorded: Olavshallen, Trondheim, August 1991/April 1992
Released in co-operation with the Norwegian Cultural Council
SIMAX - NORWAY IN MUSIC - PSC 3111 [58.56]


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The Norwegian composer Eivind Groven is hardly a household name in this country and, for that matter, neither is Geirr Tveitt, although the Naxos label is trying its utmost to do something about the latter injustice. For anyone even partially spellbound by Tveitt, here is something else well worth investigating. Groven was born in Lårdal in western Telemark, a part of Norway rich in folk-music traditions, and was a skilled exponent of both the Hardanger fiddle and the willow flute. A few of Groven's works have become part of the standard repertoire of contemporary Norwegian music and the overture Hjalarljod in particular, commissioned for the 900th anniversary of the city of Oslo, has achieved widespread popularity. It appeared on a Philips LP in this country, in the early eighties, but has never, to my knowledge, made it to CD. The Penguin Guide of the time described this music, played by the Royal Philharmonic under Per Dreier, as "strongly diatonic and nationalistic". Groven was steeped, at least as completely as the aforementioned Tveitt, and also Saeverud, in his native folk traditions, so it is unsurprising that the various peasant dances of the region loom large in his inspiration. Slått, Halling and Springar, all Norwegian specialities, have a part to play in the genesis of the pieces on this astonishing record.

The second symphony was written between 1939 and 1945 and is subtitled The midnight hour, and these were dark days indeed for the composer's native land. Although it is less dramatically immediate than the concerto, it will definitely repay repeated listening and is neither as melancholy nor as contemplative as might be imagined. The opening Allegro moderato actually shows some kinship with Grieg's Symphonic Dances and also recalls some of Tubin's lighter pieces, whereas the second has a hymn-like quality reminiscent of some of Carl Nielsen's more reflective moments. In contrast to its predecessor, the final Allegro dances along to a melody line that resembles a Nordic folk version of Sussex by the Sea!

The piano concerto was completed in the late forties but utilises music conceived much earlier, including some boyhood harmonica motifs! Despite being fairly doggedly non-virtuosic and often using the lead instrument quite percussively (à la Bartók or, closer to home, the Vaughan Williams concerto), it nevertheless contains a plethora of memorable tunes. The second and third movements, in particular, lodge themselves very firmly in the memory. Although the extended origins of the piece appear to lie in a literary stimulus (the novella Marihand by Ingeborg Refling Hagen), the music is more than capable of expressing itself and the closing movement is one of the most joyous and life-affirming pieces of music you could ever wish to hear, living up entirely to its con brio marking. The build up, in the previous two movements (particularly the central Andante), to this riotous climax is often quiet and understated but never fails to enchant. Anyone who has ever driven or walked through the Norwegian fjells in summer, or indeed anyone who has ever responded to the "songs of the high hills" will feel totally at home in Groven's musical landscape.

The recording is good and the performances by both pianist and orchestra, although Trondheim Symphony is hardly in the luxury class, do the music total justice. The booklet notes, in Norwegian and English, are as informative as anyone could wish and include numerous quotations from other Norwegian composers (from the avant-garde Valen to Tveitt) on Groven's pivotal contribution to their country's musical life. I cannot recommend this disc too highly.

Neil Horner

 


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