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Norwegian Rhapsody: Orchestral Favourites
Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935) Entry of the Boyars (1893); Wild Dance (1904)
Johan Severin Svendsen (1840-1911) Norwegian Carnival of Artists (1874);
Edvard Hagerup Grieg (1843-1907) Last Spring Op.34/2 (from Two Elegiac Melodies) (1881); Morning Mood Op.46/1 (1874-75/1888) (from Peer Gynt Suite No.1); Norwegian Dance No.2 Op.35/2 (1881)
Nils Geirr Tveitt (1908-1981) Folk Tunes from Hardanger Op.151 Excerpts from Suite No. 1 Nos. 1, 2, 11, 14 (1954)
Harald SAeverud (1897-1992) Rondo Amoroso Op. 14/7 (1941); Ballad of Revolt Op.22a/5 (1943)
Edvard Fliflet Braein (1924-1976) Towards the Sea (1947)
Eivind Groven (1901-1977) Overture (1950)
Ludvig Irgens Jensen (1894-1969) Bols Song (from incidental music to Driftekaren) (1938)
Bjarne Brustad (1895-1978) I went to bed so late (c1960)
Johannes Hanssen (1874-1967) March of the Valdre (1904)
Stavanger Symphony Orchestra/Eivind Aadland
Recorded August 2002 (Groven: October 2000) at Stavanger Concert Hall.
BIS CD-1367 [64.50]


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Most people quite frankly are not aware of many Norwegian composers. And the one everyone does know is ‘well kent’ for just a handful of works - the Piano Concerto in A minor and the Peer Gynt Suite. Pianists will know a number of the Lyric Pieces. Now, these pieces are popular with justification; they are masterpieces in their genre. The Concerto is probably one of the key works of this type of all time – even if it has to our ears become hackneyed. It has long been a favourite of mine since I watched a childhood sweetheart playing extracts from it in the school music room.

Now it is reasonable to assume that there are a number of other Norwegian composers who deserve notice. There are many names all jockeying for a position in the musical hierarchy. This CD offers a chance to meet a number of them in various guises. All the pieces on this disc are superbly crafted however the musical content varies from the humorous to the profound, from the frankly banal to the quite complex. Yet as showcase for introducing Norwegian music it is difficult to know if it impresses; if it reveals the true genius of Norwegian composers in the best light. Any such CD should challenge people to explore the composers in the compilation in more depth. I have my doubts that this is the case with a number of the names in this recording - at least on first listening.

We get off to a good start, however. The Entry of the Boyars by Johan Halvorsen is one of those pieces that amazes. It is definitely a pot-boiler. It is full of circus imagery with incessant drums giving it a military band feel. Furthermore, there is a ‘night ride’ character to much of this exciting music. Listening to this obviously popular piece we feel that we are in the presence of an extremely competent composer and orchestrator. I find the instrumental colour quite wonderful. It is full of big tunes, Straussian gestures and almost Sullivan-esque humour. Yet, it is unfair to try to allocate a style based on this single piece. It would make a fine encore at any concert. The other piece by Halvorsen is his Fanitullen (Wild Dance). This was part of the incidental music for a play called Fossegrimen by Sigurd Eldegard. It is really a wedding dance replete with images of a wedding that goes slightly wrong. Drunkenness, jealousy and fighting all are mirrored in this almost Ivesian piece of fun.

Johan Svendsen to my mind is one of the finest of Norwegian masters. Writing in the late nineteenth century he was amongst other things a symphonist. In fact his symphonies demand attention as excellent examples of the late romantic imagination. Yet this CD chooses to give a relatively slight piece of this composer. The Norwegian Carnival of Artists is a well-written piece - but in many ways it is an ephemeral work written for a meeting of the Society of Artists in 1874. The composer is reputed to have tried to marry musical images of the ‘south’ and the ‘north.’ A Neapolitan melody serves to promote sunnier climes whilst a folk dance passes muster for the chillier places. Once again I am reminded of the music of Sir Arthur Sullivan; full of gorgeous singable tunes and well orchestrated passages that show what an underrated composer we have in Svendsen. Yet perhaps we deserve one of his more profound works?

The Norwegian Master, Grieg, is represented by three relatively slight pieces. The first is a transcription of his fine song - Last Spring which has an almost Elgarian feel to much of its restrained writing. The composer is interpreting the words, 'Once again I have seen the winter give way to spring.' Perhaps it is the final time that the poet will see the blossom? Certainly there is a melancholy here that is very sad and even quite profound. Everyone knows 'Morning Mood' which I confess to first hearing on a coffee advert on the television in the 1970s. Of course it comes from the incidental music to Peer Gynt. There is a strange story attached to this music. To me it is almost English in its pastoral musical imagery. To many Norwegians it may suggest cool mountain streams and the hill farms and vistas of the mountains and fjords. However in the original play the music was meant to portray the west coast of Africa! The last of Edvard Grieg's pieces is a serviceable transcription of the Norwegian Dance No.2.

I must confess to knowing no music by Nils Geirr Tveitt. This is an omission that I intend to remedy as quickly as possible. The four pieces given here are from the First Suite of Folk Tunes from Hardanger. They have a magical quality like little else that I have heard. I suppose the nearest thing I can compare them to is Joseph Canteloube's settings of the Songs of the Auvergne. Of course Tveitt does not use a voice. All his colour and interest is carried by his superb orchestration. Excellent stuff.

The Rondo Amoroso is the most complex and profound work on this CD. It is one of the pieces that really moved me. Written by Harald Saeverud in 1941, it derives from a piano improvisation. The composer was persuaded by his son to take the theme and make it a little less sad. The Rondo form perhaps is less important than the development of the melancholy theme – it never really becomes happy. The same composer's Ballad of Revolt is the darkest piece on this compilation and perhaps the most modern sounding. It was written in 1943 at a time when the Germans had occupied the country. It was Saeverud’s way of protesting at this loss of freedom; a piece that deserves to be well known.

Towards the Sea is a transcription of song that Edvard Fliflet Braein had composed as a young man. There is to my ear a touch of the Dvořáks or Suks about this music. Yet it is truly lovely and is not simply a repetitive playing over of a tune. It is beautifully contrived for orchestra with lots of colour – especially from the brass section. Gorgeous, if a touch sentimental, is not too strong a word of praise.

I wonder who knows much about the life and works of Eivind Groven? (see Neil Horner’s review of one of the Groven discs. Ed.). I am not sure that many will recognise the name. Yet he has done much to preserve Norwegian folk music. This overture is like the curate’s egg. It was written to celebrate the opening of the new city hall in Oslo in 1950. It is fun without much depth. It probably deserves an occasional airing and it is good to have it here.

Ludwig Irgens-Jensen is another composer who is little known outside the confines of Norway. Yet he was regarded as a modernist in his younger days. The programme notes refer to his Passacaglia as being his most popular work. Yet here we have an extract from the incidental music to a play by Hans E. Kinck - Driftekaren. Bols Song is a charming miniature very much in the Grieg style rather than pushing the bounds of modernity. Nice though.

Bjarne Brustad is represented by an attractive transcription of the folk tune - I went to bed so late. I cannot fault the poise and balance of this lovely work. Once again we hear the influence of Grieg. But this is hardly surprising, as the master had used this tune in one of his own arrangements.

Military music is given its head in the last piece on this CD. Johannes Hanssen was noted for performance and conducting rather that composing. Yet in the March of the Valdre we have an excellent example of a work that ought, according to the sleeve notes, to take its place with the greatest marches of the standard repertoire. It is perhaps a little optimistic. I would hardly wish to compare this relatively light piece with the offerings of Wagner, Walton or even Eric Coates. However it is fun and rounds off this retrospective in a fitting manner. Good stuff.

The playing of the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra is second to none. It conveys a large amount of infectious sympathy for these home grown works.

My review has now come full circle. When I first began to listen to these works I was concerned that it was not an excellent showcase for the much-neglected music of Norway. Yet having listened to, and thoroughly enjoyed most of these miniatures I am converted. I believe that this is a good introduction to those who may be put off by some of these composers’ more imposing works. It could act as hors d'oeuvres to a ‘main meal’ involving a deeper exploration of the delights of these fine and interesting, if not towering composers.

John France

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