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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Harald SÆVERUD (1897-1992)
Symphony No. 2 op. 4 (1922, rev. 1934) [23:45]
Romanza for violin and orchestra op. 23a (1942) [6:32]*
Sumarnatt-Båtsong op. 14 no. 6 (1940) [7:41]
Cinquanta Variazioni Piccole op. 8 (1931-32) [5:52]
Symphony No. 4 op. 11 (1937) [21:33]
Katribe Buvarp (violin) *
Stavanger Symphony Orchestra/Ole Kristian Ruud
rec. 25-26 June 2001, Stavanger Concert Hall, Norway. DDD
BIS-CD-1262 [66:51]

 

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.

Harald Sæverud 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 of them.

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 conducting.

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 at 3.00.

Sumarnatt-Båtsong 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 landscape.

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'. Ideal.

A triumphant addition with a strong mix of the accessible and the more subtle. This should win many new and agreeably surprised friends for Sæverud.

Rob Barnett

 



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