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Harald SAEVERUD (1897 – 1992)
Symphony No. 5 Quasi una fantasia Op.16 (1941) [24:32]
Oboe Concerto Op. 15 (1939)a [17:37]
Entrata regale Op. 41 (1960) [5:30]
Sonata Giubilata Op. 47 (1969) [9:59]
Gordon Hunt (oboe)a
Stavanger Symphony Orchestra/Ole Kristian Ruud
rec. Stavanger Concert Hall, July 2000 (Symphony 5, Oboe Concerto); Aug 2000 (Entrata regale, Sonata Giubilata)
BIS CD-1162 [59:11]


Once the Grand Old Man of Norwegian music, Harald Saeverud was a much respected and highly regarded composer of almost international status. His reputation, curiously enough, rests on a quantitatively limited output, the backbone of which lies in his nine symphonies - although the first two have been either discarded or lost. During the LP era, his music was reasonably well served in several recordings by Philips’ Norwegian branch. Some of them have since been re-issued in CD format on Aurora NCD-B 4953 and NCD-B 4954 and these may still be available. Some time later, BIS recorded a selection of his piano music - now re-issued as part of a double-CD set including the complete piano music by Fartein Valen [BIS CD-173/4]). More recently still, BIS launched their Saeverud series of orchestral music by the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Dmitriev and Ole Kristian Ruud. The release under review is the sixth – and possibly final – instalment in that series, unless BIS still holds some surprises in stock (the Fourth Symphony, maybe?).

The Symphony No.5, subtitled Quasi una fantasia, is the first of the so-called "war symphonies", the other being Sinfonia Dolorosa [No.6] Op.19 (1942) and Salme [No.7] Op.27 (1944/5). These "war symphonies" were all composed during the German occupation of Norway. The composer never denied that they were influenced by the situation of the country, although they are by no means programmatic. It seems that its subtitle was to be Symphony of resistance (this was revealed after the war); but, for fairly obvious reasons, it was first performed as Quasi una fantasia, a nondescript innocuous title unlikely to anger the German authorities. It is in one single movement falling into four sections, but roughly moulded in so-called sonata form, much in the same pattern as Sibelius’s Seventh. On the whole the crux of the work is a set of twenty-six short variations on the main theme stated at the outset. The variations are contrasted, in an almost kaleidoscopic way; and, although there does not seem to be any real national element, the music sometimes displays folk-inflected turns of phrase that must have meant a lot for the audience at the first performance. Saeverud’s music is often understated and avoids bombast and grandiloquence. It speaks directly in a concise, "straight-to-the-point" manner, which must be one of its most endearing qualities.

The Oboe Concerto Op.15, composed two years earlier, is a quite different proposition. It is an unproblematic, happy work in which the soloist is given free rein in music of almost improvisatory nature. "It was the composer’s intention ... to let the oboe itself determine the form by letting its characteristic voice choose its themes ..." (the composer’s words). Saeverud brilliantly realised his views; and the Oboe Concerto is undoubtedly one of his most appealing works, joyfully dancing in the outer movement and gently lyrical in the central Adagio molto. It has always been a cause of wonder to me that this lovely work is not heard more often.

Composed for the opening of the Bergen Festival in 1960 and dedicated to King Olav V, Entrata regale Op.41 is much weightier and more developed than its title might suggest in spite of its comparative brevity. Actually it takes the form of a symphonic dance of sorts cast as a short set of variations.

Much the same may be said of Sonata Giubilata Op.47 composed to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the City of Bergen. Again, it is in a much compressed sonata form ("the loftiest and most demanding of musical forms", said Saeverud).

Excellent performances from all concerned, warmly recorded and very well produced; well up to BIS’s best standards. Gordon Hunt plays superbly in the Oboe Concerto and his performance is very fine indeed. Will there be a seventh volume, I wonder? Anyway, the BIS Saeverud series has done much to restore his best-known works to the catalogue as well as adding some other, hitherto unrecorded substantial pieces (e.g. the Third Symphony and the Cello Concerto).

Hubert Culot

see also review by John Phillips

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