American Visions
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897 - 1957)
Much Ado about Nothing (suite from the incidental music for violin and piano, Op. 11 (1921)
The Maiden in the Bridal Chamber [3:14] Dogberry and Verges. March of the Watch [2:45] Scene in the Garden [5:24] Masquerade: Hornpipe [2:20]
Charles IVES (1874 - 1954)
Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano (1914-1917, revised 1920 - 1921)
Autumn [6:08] In the Barn [5:12] The Revival [4:55]
Ken BENSHOOF (b. 1933)
Six Diversions (2005)
Conversation [2:19] Tranquil [2:34] Blue Grass [2:58] Vocalise [2:29] Raggedy Blues [2:17] Reflections [2:49]
George GERSHWIN (1898 - 1937)
Porgy and Bess (1935 arr. Jascha Heifetz 1944)
Summertime & A Woman is a Sometime Thing [4:11] My Man’s Gone Now [4:00] It Ain’t Necessarily So [3:01] Bess, You Is My Woman Now [3:07] Tempo di Blues [3:21]
Karl-Ove Mannberg (violin); Lena Johnson (piano)
rec. Kristinehallen, Falun, Sweden, 20-22 March and 30-31 May 2009
BLUEBELL ABCD 112 [63:36]

Born in Northern Sweden in 1934, Karl-Ove Mannberg found his way to music very early. In his teens he played a lot of jazz and dance music, influenced by the Danish violinist Svend Asmussen. Among his teachers we find names like Charles Barkel, Josef Grünfard and Tibor Varga. He was concert-master of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in the mid-1960s. This was the period when Celibidache turned the orchestra into a world-class ensemble. There followed periods in Gävle and Gothenburg before he went to Seattle. Back in Sweden he spent a few years in the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and also worked with a number of chamber orchestras. All these years he has also been a sought after soloist, playing the standard repertoire as well as relative rarities. During his period in Gävle he performed and made the premiere recording of Bo Linde’s violin concerto. He has championed other Nordic music as well. Three years ago he recorded a CD with Swedish pieces for violin and piano (Acoustica ACCD-1019) and now is back with an American programme.

Strictly speaking Erich Wolfgang Korngold should not be counted as American. It is true that he became a naturalized American citizen in 1941 but he was born in Brno in Austro-Hungary, as it then was, and grew up in Vienna. The incidental music to Much Ado about Nothing was originally composed in 1918-1919, long before he set foot on the American continent. It may be pernickety to carp since the suite for violin and piano is one of his finest creations. The first concert performance was probably given in Vienna in 1921 by Fritz Kreisler and Otto Schulhof. Other star violinists soon followed suit, Mischa Elman and Jascha Heifetz among them. Korngold’s easy melodic inventiveness is in evidence from the very beginning - and also his gift for colours. Naturally enough the version for small orchestra - where a harmonium is also used - has a wider palette, but the violin version is no poor man’s substitute. The second movement with its scherzo character is full of pleasant surprises and in the third we find Korngold in his most romantic vein. Mannberg’s playing is full-blooded and is well supported by Lena Johnson in the piano part. The concluding hornpipe is lively and jolly. The whole work is a joy from beginning to end.

Charles Ives was regarded as his generation’s enfant terrible but basically he was firmly rooted in Romanticism, even though he liked to experiment. He also frequently quoted folk-songs, marches, popular ballads and religious hymns; the second sonata is no exception. The first movement is permeated by a certain melancholy - don’t many of us react likewise upon the arrival of autumn? It is spiced with several rhythmically vital passages and we get a share of popular melodies as well. The limping and good-humoured In the barn supposedly illustrates dancing after the harvest is safely brought in. It is a kaleidoscope of reminiscences of songs gone by, including Swanee. The concluding movement is entitled Revival. After a contemplative beginning the music grows to hair-rising intensity before ebbing away.

Like Ives, who has been one of his sources of inspiration, Nebraska-born Kenneth Benshoff often uses folk music and also jazz. He met Karl-Ove Mannberg about thirty years ago and dedicated his Six Diversions to his old friend. This is entertaining music that I wish other violinists would add to their repertoire. The opening Conversation has a bluesy feeling, Tranquil is calm and beautiful, the syncopated Blue Grass reeks of countryside joy and Vocalise sings beautifully. Raggedy Blues is capital swing music and could be Mannberg’s tribute to his old idol Asmussen but finally the music finds repose in the calm and inward Reflections.

The best known music on the disc is no doubt Heifetz’s arrangements of songs from Porgy and Bess. Few if any violinists have ever been able to surpass the master from Vilnius in brilliance and easy delivery. Karl-Ove Mannberg with his past as a jazz musician - he played with leading Swedish pianists like Rune Öfwerman, Leif Asp and Bengt Hallberg - has true feeling for the idiom. Best of all is It ain’t necessarily so with Tempo di Blues running close. This latter title is actually There’s a boat dat’s leavin’ soon for New York.

Having admired Mannberg in the flesh on several occasions as well as on several recordings it is a pleasure to be able to report that his playing is as apt as ever. The experienced Christer Eklund has secured fine results in his multiple role of balance engineer, sound editor, text writer and producer. A quality product in every respect.

Göran Forsling