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Fartein VALEN (1887-1952)
Orchestral music - Volume 2
Nenia op. 18 No. 1 (1932-33) [4:52]
An Die Hoffnung op. 18 no. 2 (1933) [5:50]
Epithalamion op. 19 (1933) [5:54]
Symphony No. 2 op. 40 (1941-44) [23:25]
Symphony No. 3 op. 41 (1944-46) [20:24]
Stavanger Symphony Orchestra/Christian Eggen
rec. Stavanger Concert Hall, Norway, May 2006-June 2007. DDD
BIS BISCD1632 [61:49]

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Fartein VALEN (1887-1952)
Orchestral music - Volume 3
Kirkegarden vid Havet op. 20 (1933-34) [9:59]
La Isla de las Calmas op. 21 (1934) [4:35]
Ode til Ensomheten op. 35 (1939) [6:42]
Symphony No. 4 op. 43 (1947-49) [17:52]
Piano Concerto op. 44 (1949-50) [8:28]
Einar Henning Smebye (piano)
Stavanger Symphony Orchestra/Christian Eggen
rec. Stavanger Concert Hall, Norway, May 2006-June 2007. DDD
BIS BISCD1642 [49:00]
Experience Classicsonline

I reviewed Volume 1 of this now complete series last year. Here, for the patient, are the other two volumes in which Valen's abstemious delicacy and avoidance of excess is once again in evidence.
The composer drew strongly on the language of Berg for his lyrical raw materials and expressive armoury. Nenia is searingly contemplative. Its careful acidic lament was inspired by the death of Valen's friend, the painter Anselm Feuerbach. The same chanting, chilly and discursive meditative approach hangs heavily over the atmospheric An Die Hoffnung - a keepsake of the composer's visit to Keats' cypress-bowered grave in Rome. Epithalamion was prompted by the engagement of Valen's nephew Arne. It is spun with the same shivery Bergian dissonance but steps lightly.
The Second and Third Symphonies are products of the years of the second world war and of Norway's Nazi occupation. They were written in his frugal retreat from the world - the farmhouse at Valevag on the west coast of Norway. Their trajectory is troubled and often fractured, even disturbing. In the long Adagio of the Second Symphony we catch a rare moment of sharply-focused, lyrically expressive and intensely moving music. Berg meets Weill's symphonic manner in the dark quodlibet of the final allegro molto.
Of the four symphonies Valen only ever heard the Third and that was just one year before his death. At last he was receiving some recognition. Extraordinarily his Violin Concerto received praise and was recorded and filmed in a performance by Camilla Wicks. The Third Symphony of the four was inspired by the Westlandet region of Norway. This is just as troubled and as linguistically refracted as the Second Symphony.
These two symphonies recall Roger Sessions's later symphonies - not so much in density of orchestration - in fact they are pretty transparent in sound. Where the parallel comes is in the tortured and sometimes querulously probing dissonance.
The third and final BIS CD mixes Valen’s shorter Bergian impressionistic works of the mid-1930s with two substantial works of the post-war 1940s. Kirkegarden vid Havet - the Churchyard by the Sea – is a water-colour in sound. It was inspired by the poem by Paul Valéry (Cimetière Marin) in a Spanish translation. Contrast this with the warmth and chill of La Isla de las Calmas (The Silent Island). The reference is to Majorca, the island where the composer found beauty, peace and a clear mind after the occasional maulings he received from the Norwegian cultural elite. Solitude, peace and space to contemplate and create were clearly important to Valen. It is no surprise then to encounter the Ode til somheten (Ode to solitude). The work was written in 1939 after the declaration of war by a Hitler whose person and politics he condemned. Amid the indulgence of the joys of solitude there is a piercing poignant element that suggests Valen's sorrow at the fate of dissonant expressive art now vilified by the ascendant National Socialism.
The Fourth Symphony, the shortest of the four, appeared after war's end. Plaudits were at last coming his way although in fact the enlightened Norwegian government had already awarded him an annual state stipend as early as 1938. The three movement symphony includes elements as frankly lyrical as those in the second movement of the Second Symphony. That aside, this remains tough going. However the compact movements aid what is likely to reward the persistent listener with a gradual journey of assimilation and appreciation.
The pianist Alexandr Heilman had been impressed by the originality and expressive power of the Valen Violin Concerto. He commissioned a Piano Concerto and the present eight minute and three movement work was the result. Tragically Heilman never got to perform it. It is a taut and succinctly expressed concerto in three brief movements with a surprisingly florid romantic style hinted at more than once.
As expected these two superb discs are equally finely annotated. They set the standard for Valen interpretation and will be required purchases for everyone who has any interest in this Norwegian exponent of poetic and sometimes anguished dissonance.
Rob Barnett

see also an article on Fartein Valein  


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