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Geirr TVEITT (1908-1981)
Sinfonia di Soffiatori (1974) [16:01]
Prinds Christian Frederiks Honnørmarch (Prince Christian Frederik’s March of Honour) (1970) [3:19]
Det gamle Kvernhuset, op.204 (The Old Mill on the Brook) (1962) [3:03]
Hymne til Fridomen (Hymn to Freedom) (1962) [3:05]
Sinfonietta di Soffiatori, op.203 (1962) [12:40]
Selections from Hundrad Hardingtonar, op.151 (transctiption for band by Stig Nordhagen) (1950/1953) [22:09]
The Royal Norwegian Navy Band, Bjarte Engeset
rec. 12 – 16 November 2007, Tønsberg Domkirke, Tønsberg, Norway DDD
NAXOS 8.572095 [65:14]
Experience Classicsonline

Geirr Tveitt is one of Norwegian music’s best kept secrets. He was born in Bergen, and in 1928 went to Leipzig to study, where, three years later, the
Leipzig Radio Orchestra premiered his 1st Piano Concerto. In Paris he studied with Nadia Boulanger and in Vienna took instruction from Egon Wellesz. After the war Tveitt toured extensively in Europe with his music and performed it to great success. At home he was considered somewhat old hat by the up-coming “experts” of the musical establishment. He started to spend more and more time at the family farm in Kvam, collecting his manuscripts together and keeping them neatly filed in wooden chests. In 1970 the house burned to the ground and approximately 300 works were lost – including twenty eight Piano Sonatas (the 29th is the only one of his Piano Sonatas to remain), six Piano Concertos and two Concertos for Hardanger fiddle – seemingly forever. Over the years scores have come to light or been reconstructed from orchestral parts or taken down from recordings. Tveitt died an embittered man in Norheimsund, Hardanger, little expecting the growth of interest in his works which would so soon start. 

Over the past ten years or so, the time I have been listening to foreign radio stations on the net, I have heard many fine works by Tveitt in performances broadcast by Norwegian Radio including Baldurs Draumar (1938) – a full evening’s work for singers and orchestra (reconstructed by Alexei Rybnikov) – the 1st, 4th and 5th Piano Concertos and the 2nd Harp Concerto. Last year, being his centenary, they treated us to quite a lot of Tveitt. So his star is finally in the ascendant and this is how it should be for such fine and bold music – vastly colourful, endlessly inventive and thoroughly approachable. To its credit, Naxos has already issued much Tveitt, including the complete orchestral Hundert Volksmelodien aus Hardanger, op. 151, two volumes of solo piano works and the four remaining Piano Concertos. 

Tveitt could certainly orchestrate and his works are full of marvellous twists and turns of colour and the variety of sounds on his palette is large. He was also a composer who could respond to what we call the military or wind band. The two big works here – Sinfonietta di Soffiatori and Sinfonia di Soffiatori – might be short in playing time but they inhabit a world where the big gesture is to the fore. He exploits both the large harmonious sound of the full band but never forgets just how delicate the same forces can be when necessary. The earlier Sinfonietta di Soffiatori is a very strong piece – together with Det gamle Kvernhuset and Hymne til Fridomen Tveitt entered it in a competition organized by the Norwegian Band Association and music publisher Tonika. He won 1st prize – for the Sinfonietta – 2nd prize for Det gamle Kvernhuset and 3rd prize for Hymne til Fridomen!. The Sinfonietta is  in five movements. Starting with an autumnal nocturne, this is followed by a beautifully quirky scherzo–like movement. The middle piece, titled Fanfara funebre, is a breezy thing on the surface but there’s some strange harmonic things going on underneath the supposed easiness of the music. Indeed, it starts to become quite dark as it progresses. Norwegian folk-music was never far from Tveitt’s thinking so for the penultimate movement we have a slightly lop–sided country dance, with some gorgeously simple orchestration. The final movement is no summing up, it’s quite nostalgic as it makes its gentle way to the conclusion. This is lovely with no problems; it’s just a simple, straight–forward, piece which is immediately accessible. 

The later Sinfonia di Soffiatori was commissioned by the American St Olaf College Concert Band for their European tour in 1974. It’s a totally different kind of work, and has a part for the harp, which adds a nice extra tone colour to the ensemble. The alla Marcia, middle, movement has a fine build-up of sound and makes for a superb climax in the centre of the piece. The first movement is a very mellow countryside vision - beautiful use of clarinets and harp here. The final movement alternates between full ensemble, in some very striking music, and the most beautiful, and delicate, outpouring. After some of the turmoil earlier in the movement the ending is quite magical. 

The arrangements of Hardanger folk tunes, for orchestra, contain some of Tveitt’s most imaginative orchestral thoughts. Many are quite deliciously, and intentionally, comic – just try track 17 – Hardanger Ale – it’s not all there, in common parlance, just as if one had supped a few too many of the brew. Stig Nordhagen has done a good job in his transcriptions but I do miss the sound of the full orchestra here, the addition of strings makes all the difference. 

The Royal Northern College of Music Wind Band has recorded both Det Gamle Kvernhuset and the Sinfonietta di Soffiatori on a CD (Chandos CHAN10038) coupled with other Nordic works for band by Rautavaara, Sallinen, Hugh Alfvén and Ole Schmidt. The Chandos is a good disk - if you have it keep hold of it - but these Naxos performances are much more idiomatic, and the direction is tighter. Fantastic sound, fabulous playing, excellent notes all make for a disk which is a necessity for every record shelf.

Bob Briggs

see also Review by Göran Forsling


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