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Norwegian Heartland
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 (1868) [29’06”]
Johan HALVORSEN (1864-1935)
Norwegian Rhapsody No. 2 (1920) [11’35”]
Bergensiana – Rococo Variations on an Old Tune from Bergen (1921) [11’10”]
Entry of the Boyars (1895) [4.44]
Harald SÆVERUD (1897-1992)
Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op.28 (1947) [18’48”]
Rondo Amoroso, Op.14a, No.7 (1940) [4’45”]
Her Last Cradle Song, Op.22a, No.3 (1943) [3’10”]
Canto Rivoltoso. Op.22a, No.5 (1943) [6’27”]
Johan SVENDSEN (1840-1911)
Norwegian Rhapsody No.4,(1878) [12’19”]
Norwegian Artist’s Carnival, Op.14 (1874) [6’18”]
Geirr TVEITT (1908-1981)
From A Hundred Folk-tunes from Hardanger, Op. 151 (1940 - 1970)
Suite No.1, Nos. 1, 9 and 12 (1944 onwards) [8’37”]
Suite No.2, No. 26 (1944 onwards) [3’40”]
Suite No.4, Nos. 47 and 60 (1944 onwards) [3’46”]
Suite No.5, No. 66 (1944 onwards) [3’29”]
4 greetings (unknown) [3’32”]
Arve Moen Bergset, (vocal); Isa Katherina Gericke (soprano); Sigurd Slatterbrekk (piano)
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Michail Jurowski
rec. Oslo Concert Hall, Oslo, Norway, 5–6, 9–13, 16 August 2004. SACD
SIMAX PSC 1260 [68’38” + 66’12”]


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This really is a delightful pair of discs, and is entitled “Norwegian Heartland”. The Oslo Philharmonic has been out of new release lists since Mariss Jansons left them, but it is very pleasing to relate that they have lost nothing of their style, which was so evident under Jansons. Simax has issued set in celebration of Classical Norway – The 2005 Centenary. 1905 saw the beginning of Norway as a sovereign state, and Simax have decided to commemorate the event by this set featuring five of the Country’s principal composers and played by the country’s premier orchestra.

The chosen works may not appeal to general music lovers, but don’t be put off, there is immense pleasure to be had from its contents. In addition to the performances Simax’s SACD recording is clear, immediate and very truthful - up there with the best. This is the first SACD I have come across that has not been in the curved cornered jewel case – instead we have a normal slimline double case. I hope that this represents the start of some consistency in the packaging of SACDs.

The Grieg Piano Concerto is the most well known of the various works on this issue. The performance is by a pianist previously unknown to me. Sigurd Slatterbrekk is absolutely first rate, and the accompaniment by Michail Jurowski and his orchestra can hold its own with any in the catalogue. Slatterbrekk’s touch, particularly in the slow movement is absolutely ravishing, and the orchestra accompanies to the manner born. I was initially sorry that more Grieg had not been not included, although once I had listened to the rest, I was much less bothered.

Johan Svendsen is represented by two works, his Norwegian Rhapsody No. 4 and his Norwegian Artists’ Carnival, both very tuneful and enjoyable, without the greatness of say, Sibelius’s similar works.

Much the same can be said of the next composer, Johan Halvorsen, who is represented by three works, one of which, The Entry of the Boyars is very well known, and played with extreme gusto and proper style.

Harald Sæverud is the closest one could describe as the modern element in this compilation with six movements from his Peer Gynt Suites. These are not nearly as well known as the Greig music, but are none the worse for that. Sæverud seems to concentrate on the spiky side of the tale. The Oslo Philharmonic has recorded this repertoire before under Miltiades Caridis on the Aurora label. This performance is every bit as good as its predecessor, with a vastly better recording. Isa Katharina Gericke is a beautiful sounding Solveig.

Sæverud is also represented by some other short pieces, beautifully played. Canto Rivoltoso had immense meaning for its Norwegian audience when first performed. The composer was returning home during the war when he saw, across the Norwegian landscape the German barracks. The piece was written for the Norwegian Home Guard and created a tremendous stir when performed after the war.

This collection is completed by excerpts from Geirr Tveitt’s “A Hundred Folk-tunes from Hardanger”. Many of these have been issued on Naxos, played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Bjarte Engeset. It was very instructive to compare the Norwegian performances with the Scottish ones. Although the Naxos issue has been very highly recommended, and is very good, the current performances sweep the board, I am afraid. The Oslo orchestra has a virtuosity and a feel for the folksy elements of this music which defies their Scottish counterparts, good as they are. The shame is that there are only a few of the Tunes recorded on this newest issue, so a full comparison cannot be made.

Finally, there are four folk songs proper, sung by Arve Moen Bergeset as solo offerings, which add character to this issue. I hope I have been able to persuade you that this release is much more than the sum of its constituent parts, and therefore very well worth buying.

To round off, this set is provided with an outstanding set of notes. They contain poetry relevant to the issue and photographs of various Norwegian scenes which very clearly show why the Norwegians are so proud of their country and its musical heritage, to say nothing of its orchestra and the other artists taking part. Indeed the only non-Norwegian appears to be the conductor, but we need not worry about this as he has absorbed the idiom like a native.

Very highly recommended for giving intense enjoyment to the listener who is prepared to try something a little out of the normal run of issues.

John Phillips








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