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Morten GAATHAUG (b. 1955)
Musica da camera
String Quartet No.2 Op.31 (1986) [29:43]
Six Songs to Poems by Jens Bjørneboe Op.56 (2002) [14:12]
Piano Quintet Op.59 (2003-04) [28:16]
Tore Dingstad (piano) (quintet)
Per Anders Tønder (baritone), Ellen Ugelvik (piano) (songs)
Ensemble Bjørvika (quartet, quintet)
rec. Sofienberg Church, April 2007
2L 44 [72:25]
Experience Classicsonline

Morten Gaathaug was born in Sande, southern Norway, in 1955. He studied piano and composition and studied in Bratislava (1981-82) - piano with Eva Fischerová and composition with Vladimir Bokes. Further studies took him back to Oslo for piano with Hanna Marie Weydahl and Jens Harrald Bratlie. He has performed widely as a pianist and since 1983 has made his mark as a composer – though a string quartet had been performed earlier on Slovak Radio during his studies there. Since 1996 he has worked as a part-time piano teacher in Ski, the town that awarded him its Cultural medal in 2007.
Gaathaug is a traditionalist in the good sense. He avoids dogma in his music. Perhaps he would cleave to the title of one of Humphrey Lyttelton’s autobiographies; “I Play As I Please.” What pleases Gaathaug is the absorption of folkloric music into a broadly romantic sound palette. His String Quartet No.2 was written in 1986. Themes are inter-related throughout the four movements and moments of almost ecclesiastical solemnity alternate with looser material, relative unison austerity with more episodic writing. There’s a fine folkloric drone in the scherzo – maybe hints of Prokofiev as well, but above all Norwegian folk influences and touches of Janáček – possibly imbibed during his Czechoslovakian year. To show that his adherence to classical models is unashamed he writes a strong fugally based finale.
The Six Songs are conventional sounding affairs. Rosen is couched in late Romantic vernacular, whilst Den evige slagmark is stormy and military. There’s unusual subject matter in the fifth of Jens Bjørneboe’s poems, which celebrates the carousing poet Brendan Behan.
The Piano Quintet is the most recent work, having been completed in 2004. It too, like its quartet brother, is a four-movement work cast in Haydnesque form – an Allegro, a Scherzo, Adagio and Non troppo allegro finale. It’s actually a more obviously late romantic work than the Quartet. Passages sound a little reminiscent of Grieg; even whilst it moves away from this kind of model it still retains the folk basis that seems to run throughout Gaathaug’s music. As with the earlier work themes are inter-related. The slow movement is the heart of it – very warm, with pliant piano chording. Unashamed romanticism – good to hear. The finale ends joyfully with the piano snatching a fine tune to lead his fellows home – lyrical, tuneful music.
I enjoyed my time with Gaathaug, of whom I’d previously not heard. Doubtless some people would write him off as a naïve dabbler. I certainly think a tighter focus in the chamber works would distil his influences and inspirations to beneficial effect; the half hour Quartet is too long to sustain its material. But I shall look out for Gaathaug and his talented confreres on this disc, who do him proud.
Jonathan Woolf


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