(The Dream Ballad) is a 52 verses long poem, telling the story
of Olav who slept from Christmas Eve to Epiphany and in his
dreams visited the Kingdoms of the Dead, Hell and Heaven. It
was sung to traditional tunes and was regarded as a medieval
ballad but in reality it was written in the 1890s by Moltke Moe, who was the first Norwegian professor of Folklore.
His pretensions were to reconstruct something from the eleventh
and twelfth centuries. His sources were however much younger,
actually from the 1840s and Moe altered and amended the texts
to achieve a coherent narrative. It was very popular during
the 20th century and many composers set the text
while others used the traditional tunes associated with the
ballad. Klaus Egge was one of them in his large Piano Sonata No. 1 from
1933. It is in four movements and the first has a
slow introduction, where three melodies are presented, which
are the basis for a fantasy on them, as well as on other
folk-tunes, in the following movements. The slow movement has
an improvisatory feeling, where Egge explores the harmonic possibilities of the thematic material.
The short third movement, Scherzo infernale,
is a devilish but still restrained interlude before the dancing
finale, based on the two-beat Halling
dance. This is both atmospheric and invigorating music in a
mainly tonal language.
He returned to the
Halling dance some years later in the Halling
Fantasy, which is altogether harsher, Bartók-influenced.
It is a two-part invention with one part for each hand. In the
Piano Concerto from 1944 he has moved further onto the path
of dissonance. Strictly speaking it isn’t a concerto at all,
which also the subheading says: Symphonic variations and
Fugue on a Norwegian Folktune.
Though written as one continuous piece of music one can distinguish
four movements: the first four variations constitute the first
movement, the next two are the slow movement and a seventh variation
is the scherzo, while the motoric fugue is an insidious finale. It is rhythmic and vital
music and I don’t believe many will be put off by the partly
dissonant language. On the disc these three works are played
in reversed order and it would have been a better idea to present
them chronologically to better demonstrate the development of
Egge’s art. There is a point, however,
in the chosen order, where the disc opens with a short piece
by Grieg, an arrangement of the folk
melody Solfager og
Ormekongen, since Egge
uses the same melody, albeit slightly altered, for his variations.
The remaining pieces
are also based on folk tunes and are attractive. Alf Hurum
may not be a household name, not even in Norway.
He is probably more known in Honolulu
where he moved after marrying a Hawaiian woman and there he
founded the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra.
The last piece,
which is a first recording, has an amazing background story.
Håvard Gimse has recorded several discs with Geirr
Tveitt’s music and on hearing them
Ragnhild Nordsjø, who worked with
Tveitt, sent this composition to Håvard.
It was composed by Tveitt in half
an hour on 24 September 1963, sitting in a car
outside the church where Ragnhild
was to be married. A better wedding-present is hard to imagine!
It is beautiful and folk song like but it is Tveitt’s
own work and Håvard Gimse
plays it delicately – as he does everything on this disc. Having
heard him live on several occasions as well as having a number
of his discs I knew what was to expect and he is up to his usual
high standards, having an unerring sense for the musical phrase.
In the Piano Concerto he is excellently partnered by the renowned
Trondheim Soloists, directed from
the cello by his younger brother Øyvind.
I suppose most readers
are unfamiliar with the majority of this music but this disc
only shows what many already suspected: that Norwegian music
is much more than Grieg. The recording
is first class and David Gallagher’s liner notes give much valuable
information on the music.
by Patrick Waller