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Geirr TVEITT (1908–1981)
Tonen - Songs
see end of review for track listing
Birgitte Grimstad (vocals and guitar) other instrumentalists and ensembles
rec. 1966 – 1994
MUDI MUD2097 [68:43 + 57:40]
Experience Classicsonline

A couple of months ago I reviewed a brand new disc with songs by Geirr Tveitt, whose 100th anniversary was celebrated in 2008 (see review). It missed my recordings of the year by a hair’s breadth. Hardly had the review been posted before I got a mail from Stig Olav Skeie, one of those responsible for this issue, and within a few days I had this double CD in my hand. It is not really a competitor to Vollestad’s disc, rather a complement. And this is not only because there is no overlapping of songs but because in a way they belong in two different genres.
 
Vollestad, a baritone well established in the operatic repertoire as well as being recitalist, sings the songs as a good Lieder singer – and very well he does too. Birgitte Grimstad has a classically trained, very attractive voice, but she sings her chosen songs mostly accompanied by guitar - often by herself - in the manner of what in Norwegian would be termed visesanger. Vise in Norwegian, visa in Swedish are equivalents to, say, chanson in French. This is as opposed to mélodie which is the commonest equivalent to the German Lied. Art song, is probably the best English translation. A latter-day troubadour or minstrel should be something similar. What is also enormously important is that Birgitte Grimstad’s interpretations are as close to Geirr Tveitt’s ideas as could be imagined. Tveitt wrote the majority of them for her. They were created as a collaboration with Grimstad and she premiered more than thirty of them. Every now and then Tveitt rang her up and asked if she could have look at some new songs. Sometimes she drove to the Norwegian Radio, where Tveitt worked in those days, or they had ‘phone tests’ where they discussed details. Then he came to her house in Røyken with a technician and a tape-recorder. This is as close as the artistic collaboration between Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, maybe even closer.
 
The background to their collaboration was that Tveitt had been engaged by Norwegian Radio to make programmes of literature. During this period he set to music some of the finest Norwegian poetry. He worked with the finest voices in the arts world. These included two Nobel Prize Winners, Sigrid Undset and Knut Hamsun, as well as Tarjei Vesaas and Jacob Sande and even the Icelandic Nobel Prize Winner Halldor Laxness. There were many others, several of them little known even in the rest of Scandinavia, which is not to say that they are in any way inferior to those with an international name.
 
The recordings were made over quite a long period, most of them during the early to middle 1970s. Most are from the archives of Norwegian Radio but quite a few are licensed from commercial sources. On a couple of them Tveitt conducts the orchestra, which gives a special imprimatur, and on Tarjei Vesaas’s Første snø (The first snow) Tveitt accompanies Birgitte on harpsichord.
 
As with the Vollestad disc the very special atmosphere of Tveitt’s highly personal harmonic and melodic language is very tangible. I am very happy to have both interpreters available. When I am in vise-mood - the first song of the set is suitably entitled Vise - I will turn to Grimstad. When I want to fit Tveitt into a more Central European Lieder tradition Vollestad will be my choice. I was deeply impressed by Vollestad’s disc but I have to admit that since I received the Grimstad set these songs have really haunted me.
 
I am not going to analyse the programme in details; just say that each poem attracts a musical garment that seems absolutely inevitable. Music and words fit to perfection. And here I also have to issue a warning: This set is primarily intended for the domestic Norwegian market, which means that all the texts, the introduction by Grimstad as well as the beautifully designed poems, are in Norwegian only. This poses some problems for non-Scandinavians – maybe even for some of them insofar as nynorsk (New Norwegian) can be a stumbling-block for Swedish and Danish speakers – but I would eagerly encourage all readers with an interest in some wonderful songs a bit off the beaten track to give these discs a try. Maybe a few songs at a time to begin with. Don’t start with the admittedly impressive final number on CD 2, the almost half-hour-long Telemarkin, a cantata commissioned for the opening of Rauland Academy on 8 June 1974. It’s written for song, reading, hardingfele (the typical Norwegian folk-music fiddle) and orchestra. It should also be added that there are a few purely orchestral excerpts included on the disc, culled from Bjarte Engeset’s admirable Naxos recordings of Tveitt’s music.
 
A wholly engrossing experience.
 
Göran Forsling

Track listing

CD 1
1. Vise (Tarjei Vesaas) [1:55]
2. Fløytelåt (Jacob Sande) [3:02]
3. Tonen (Knut Hamsun) [2:35]
4. Så rodde de fjoran (Aslaug Vaa) [3:24]
5. Tora synger (Knut Hamsun) [1:54]
6. Eg møtte deg alder (Astrid Krog Halse) [1:16]
7. Skinnvengbrev (Aslaug Vaa) [3:00]
8. Barnet og kista (Tarjei Vesaas) [2:51]
9. Stutt er folars flygelov (Tarjei Vesaas) [0:51]
10. Lurleik (Per Sivle) [2:37]
11. Ingen fare (Olav Kaste) [1:22]
12. Sko, sko hirdmans hest (Sigrid Undset) [3:13]
13. Natta, Gunnar og bjørka (Tarjei Vesaas) [3:00]
14. Du (instr) [2:22]
15. Marian (Jacob Sande) [2:51]
16. Fann eg dei stigar (Aslaug Vaa) [1:44]
17. Vaka og vente (Aslaug Vaa) [2:07]
18. Når heggen blømer (Olav Kaste) [1:36]
19. Spør vinden (Olav Kaste) [1:04]
20. To (Ragnvald Skrede) [1:39]
21. Det studdelege romet (Aslaug Vaa) [2:53]
22. Hyldesbrev til Drachmann (Knut Hamsun) [2:32]
23. Roald Amundsen (Inge Krokann) [1:45]
24. Og den tredje (Ragnhild Jølsen) [1:22]
25. Oh fremad, fremad (Ragnhild Jølsen) [1:54]
26. Kun skinner et smykke (Ragnhild Jølsen) [1:44]
27. Fergemann tid (Hermann Wildenvey) [2:41]
28. Etterklangen (Aslaug Vaa) [3:10]
29. Søvnen og døden (Knut Hamsun) [4:32]

CD 2
1. Høyrer du songjen [1:15]
2. Furuski [1:10]
3. Huldrelokk [1:50]
4. Huldresong “Tusseflyta” [0:49]
5. Fagraste viso pao jorde [0:53]
6. Uppskoko [1:26]
7. Uppskoko (instr) [1:12]
8. Stavkyrkjestev [0:37]
9. Stavkyrkjestev (instr) [1:28]
10. Ég skal vaka og vera gód (Halldor Laxness) [2:36]
11. I hasseldokk (Aslaug Vaa) [1:30]
12. Første snø (Tarjei Vesaas) [1:04]
13. Tile in falk (Ragnvald Skrede) [1:08]
14. Møte på fjellet (Tarjei Vesaas) [1:49]
15. Der villmarka suser (Mikkjel Fønhus) [2:30]
16. Nordlysun (Aslaug Vaa) [3:21]
17. Sjå deg vel irking (Ragnvald Skrede) [1:20]
18. Blå kveld (Aslaug Vaa) [2:14]
19. Telemarkin (Aslaug Vaa) [28:28]
 

 


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