I reviewed Volume
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
The composer drew strongly on the language of Berg for his lyrical
raw materials and expressive armoury. Nenia
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.
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
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
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
'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
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
Churchyard by the Sea – is a water-colour in sound. It
was inspired by the poem by Paul Valéry (Cimetière
) in a Spanish translation. Contrast this with
the warmth and chill of La Isla de las Calmas
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
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 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
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.
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
see also an article on Fartein Valein