In terms of composers
who have made a major splash internationally
Norway has Grieg as Finland has Sibelius.
Labels such as Aurora, Unicorn, NKF
and Bis have been teaching us that there
is far more to Norway's musical scene
than just Grieg. Saeverud has
been one of the composers we have been
introduced to through the recorded media
and in Norway has been placed on the
same level as Grieg.
and Olav Kielland, born in the 1890s,
are significant figures. I know Kielland
only from a cassette of someone's old
Norwegian LP of his athletic and cleanly
defined First Symphony. As for the Bergen-born
Sæverud I have been aware of him
since Unicorn issued an LP of one of
his symphonies (LSO/Ole Schmidt) and
NKF recorded his Sinfonia Dolorosa.
Bis have now issued seven volumes of
recordings of his orchestral music by
the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. However
it was the Bergen Phil which Sæverud
conducted that premiered many of his
works and repeat-performed a selection
Sæverud was blessed
with a friend, Johan Ludvig Mowinckel,
whose extremely affluent father was
prepared to spend large sums on contemporary
music and its white hopes. With this
backing Sæverud went to study
in Berlin. There he spent two years
during the early 1920s studying with
Friedrich Koch. In the German capital
he wrote and had performed his First
Symphony with the Berlin Phil.
The Symphony No.
2 was being worked on at the same
time as the First. It was completed
in Norway by Christmas 1922. The Bergen
Phil - affectionately known as 'Harmonien'
- premiered it on 22 November 1923,
the composer conducting. The remainder
of the 1920s were, with the exception
of the Third Symphony, unproductive
but by 1934 Sæverud had revised
and reordered the movements of the Second
and it is this version we hear now.
For a work from the 1920s it is a remarkable
piece. Itís not atonal but neither is
it luxuriously romantic. The orchestration
has a Sibelian lucidity. Across its
three movements we become familiar with
two ideas variously expressed. There's
an aggressive and convulsive iterated
cell which gives the symphony propulsion.
The cell seems to incorporate an angry
fogged reference to Beethoven's Fifth
Symphony fate motif: listen at 11:00
in the finale (tr. 3). There's also
a contrasting folksy-pastoral idea sometimes
to be heard with black clouds overhanging.
At other times, as at the start of the
second movement, it is more serene and
idealised like a feintly acidic echo
of the tender music for Tatiana in Eugene
Onegin. It also appears in a memorable,
bucolic slave dance as at 2:10 in the
second movement. The symphony ends with
the angry convulsive cell undergoing
an instantaneous metamorphosis into
triumph. The music is in long lines
with none of the fragmentation of the
revolutionary avant-garde. The 1934
final revision was premiered by the
Bergen orchestra with Olav Kielland
The Romanza for
violin and orchestra is not quite the
syrupy confection we might have expected.
On the other hand it is not a gritty
thunderer either despite its contemporary
works which included the Sæverudís
Sinfonia Dolorosa. Much of the
work emulates a concert piece by Bruch
or Saint-Saëns. It does have a
slight 20th century tang and an occasional
salty dissonance - a Bergian slow motion
Ďskidí rather than anything more drastic.
At 2.17 we get an almost Straussian
dance and thereís some Dvorakian bustle
dates from two years before
the Romanza. It was written in
two versions simultaneously - one for
solo piano; the other heard here. Although
tense, this is a very accessible delicate
piece of chamber textured writing alive
with birdsong amid the pines. It is
given irritant momentum by a dancing
figure. The subtitle is: Barcarola
d'una notte d'estate. The dedication
is to Sæverudís wife Marie.
Another short piece
before we get to the other symphony.
This is the Cinquanta Variazioni
Piccole. As the title
indicates we get fifty micro-variations
and we get them in just short of six
minutes. Woodwind figures curve and
smile like the DvořŠk
wind serenade. Little dances announce
themselves and then fade. Determined
aggressive moments with side-drum melt
into summer dells and glades. It's all
over very quickly.
The Fourth Symphony
is dedicated to the then conductor
of the Bergen Philharmonic, Harald Heide
who was also the dedicatee of the Variazioni.
It is in a single movement. The style
has moved on again. The writing is more
oblique than in the Second Symphony.
Here the harmonic world tends to the
astringent with a Bergian flavour rising
to almost manic urgency at 18.18. Familiar
hallmarks are there: iterated aggressive-propulsive
cells (7:40; 9:09) occasionally predictive
of Shostakovich, woodwind-articulated
birdsong, satisfying repetition and
melancholic solos or chamber music interludes
most touchingly done as at 19:30 onwards.
The music is sometimes oddly similar
to Rawsthorne; try the repeated melodic
cell at 11:34. There's also a Nielsen-like
tenderness at the end only slightly
curdled by that Bergian accent. The
masterstroke - and it's wonderfully
memorable - is a glowing but modest
little brass figure that rises at the
end from nowhere and establishes a satiated
sunset gesture. Superb.
This is volume seven
in the Bis Sæverud Edition.
It is typical of Bisís
non-conformist approach that the cover
of the booklet has the orchestra in
single file trooping their way in full
evening dress through a barren rocky
Lorenz Reitans provides
strong factual background in his booklet
note which is pleasingly light on describing
what we can actually hear if we put
the disc in the tray and press 'play'.
A triumphant addition
with a strong mix of the accessible
and the more subtle. This should win
many new and agreeably surprised friends