is the first volume in a new series devoted to historic recordings
by Norwegian artists. In the case of volume one “historic” stretches
back as far as 1946 and as far forward as 1973. The parameters
are set at 1945 to 2000 so we can expect a wide range of
material, ranging I suppose from acetate to digital, though
being curious I searched but failed to find enticing details
of subsequent volumes.
The musicians include a
violinist, a singer, a pianist, organist and a flautist.
Their careers were variable, some having international reputations,
some ploughing a more native soil. Violinist Ernst Glaser
was born in Hamburg in 1904 and studied with Flesch for four
years. He took up a position as leader of the Oslo Philharmonic
in 1928, a seat he was to occupy for fully forty years, less
the war years when he had to leave Norway for obvious reasons.
He premiered concertos by Kielland, Egge and Arnestad and
was an admired teacher. These are the earliest recordings
in volume one, made in 1946 with his wife as accompanist.
It was clearly a dance-themed recital of six short pieces,
preserved in the NRK Archives. Glaser was rather a charming
player, small scaled and with the typical rhythmic surety
of an orchestral leader. The ethos is old fashioned, sparing
of vibrato, sometimes unvarnished and exposed and flirting
dangerously with intonation. Portamenti are quick but pervasive
and the vibrato when extensively used rather slow. Unusually
he plays the Elgar Serenade, originally written for piano.
This is not acknowledged in the booklet but is actually the
Szigeti arrangement - so perhaps Glaser had heard Szigeti’s
1934 Columbia recording of it. Glaser died in 1979.
Marit Isene had a wider career. Born in 1923 she sang early
in Stockholm and Oslo, then Zurich. She later sang under
Solti in Frankfurt and Sieglinde and Gutrune in Wagner performances
with Knappertsbusch in Paris. It was Flagstad herself who
invited Isene to return to sing at the Oslo opera, which
she did until 1973 after which she taught. She retired at
seventy and died at eighty and the notes tell us that she
compiled a documentary archive of her career and personally
considered the recordings here representative. They show
her voice as strong and expressive, albeit with a rather
florid portamento in the Strauss Ständchen. The Wagner
is a sliver of a memento of her performances of the composer,
and in rather occluded sound as well. Her Verdi comes from
1965 and shows the voice is commanding but has deepened and
hardened, and is less mobile, though she was only forty-two
at the time.
Arild Sandvold (1895-1984) is the elder statesman of the
quintet of featured musicians. He’d studied in Oslo and with
Karl Straube in Leipzig. Cathedral organist in Oslo for over
thirty years he was a choral director and teacher. I’m not
aware how many recordings he may have made, if any, but fortunately
broadcast performances have been preserved. He plays a work
by Ludvig Mathias Lindeman, a predecessor of his at Oslo,
and does so with imagination and romantic sweep. Registrations
are apposite, colour is warm, and there’s a sense of spacious
nobility allied to a fine declamatory peroration.
in 1917 flautist Ørnulf Gulbransen died in 2004. One more
Oslo associations are strong and long lasting. He was a member
of the Philharmonic for thirty years, at a time when Glaser
led the orchestra, and he toured internationally. He taught
widely, and that included a six year period in Vermont, spending
time working with Casals and Serkin, and also in Canada.
He was a highly admired soloist and chamber player and a
clearly demanding teacher. He plays the concerto by Johan
Kvandal as preserved in a 1966 performance. This is a sprightly
neo-classical work, spongy and pert, strongly Stravinskian
with quite an intense slow movement. Flecks of Shostakovich
are there; maybe a nod to Hindemith. Which makes it seem
far less spirited and enjoyable than it actually is; Gulbransen
plays with great verve and sensitivity.
the best known of the quintet of musicians is Robert Riefling
(1911-1988). He studied in Oslo and made his professional
debut at fourteen before studies with Karl Leimer, Kempff
and Fischer. He was apparently the first Norwegian pianist
to play the “48” in concert, recording it twice. He was also
a proponent of concertos by Egge, Sæverud, Rivertz and Valen.
His career was distinguished and his teaching life equally
so. Given the foregoing it’s no surprise that we hear him
in Bach. He plays the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor
with limpid and rounded tone that reminds one in particular
of his tutelage with Kempff. Tone colours and clarity are
subsumed to a warmly romanticised reading; the conception
is entirely pianistic, the execution first class, the tempi
not pressing but singing and under perfect digital command.
Maybe his Sicilienne is over accented in the left hand but
Riefling always leaves a strong impression in Bach.
that’s volume one. The sound quality is never less than good,
even in the case of the 1946 broadcast. Notes are apposite
and the mini biographies are useful for school and graduate
entry levels. Each musician has a photograph as well. I can
imagine pedants complaining about miscellaneous programming
but so far as I’m concerned this is fine reclamation work
by Simax. These are musicians we should hear. And let’s hear
more of them and the others to come in this valuable series.
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Seen & Heard
Editor in Chief