Johan HALVORSEN (1864 - 1935)
Orchestral Works Vol. 1
Entry March of the Boyars [4:30]
Andante religioso* [5:57]
Suite from ‘Mascarade’ [27:54]
La Mélancolie [2:28]
Symphony No. 1 [35:25]
Marianne Thorsen (violin)*
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Greighallen, Bergan, Norway, 24 August-2 September 2009. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10584 [76:48]
Halvorsen studied the violin under Brodsky, and composition in Berlin. He became conductor of the Symphony Concerts in Bergen and subsequently Conductor and Director of Music of the National Theatre, Kristiania (now Oslo). His compositions were strongly influenced by his friend Grieg, whose niece he married. His music is now largely forgotten and only the first piece of this CD is reasonably well known outside Norway.
The Entry March of the Boyars was one of Halvorsen’s earliest works. Grieg spotted the draft manuscript at the piano and after careful study said ‘That was damn good!’ It was used as incidental music in the theatre and two years later was published in a version for full symphony orchestra. It is a fine march with just a tinge of the East.
‘Andante religioso’ (a premier recording) for violin and orchestra reminds us that the composer was a very fine violinist. It was originally written in for violin, organ and orchestra and first performed at a church concert in 1899. An interesting work, it used to be very popular in Norway.
In 1922 a festival performance was planned for a performance, at the National Theatre, of the comedy play ‘Masquerade’ by the Norwegian-Danish playwright Ludvig Holberg - first performed in 1724. Halvorsen was assigned to write the music for this production, where he was restricted for economical reasons to a small orchestra of 15 players. Holberg’s play includes much buffoonery, comedy and ballet - an ideal subject for the composer. Mostly this is a pastiche of eighteenth century dance music with movements including the ‘Cotillon’, ‘Gavotte’ and ‘Passpied’. Much more fun is found in the grotesque ‘Hanedansen’ (The Dance of the Cockerel) and in ‘Kehras’ (Bachanal) - where things really go with a swing. It is interesting to compare this music with that composed by Nielsen in 1906 for his opera based on the same play. There the music is more contemporary than eighteenth century in style. It would be interesting to know whether Halvorsen was familiar with Nielsen’s version.
‘La Mélancolie’ is an arrangement of a violin piece by the Norwegian violin virtuoso/composer Ole Bull (1810-1880). It is presented by Halvorsen for string orchestra and is short but moving, exhibiting considerable feeling. It is one of Halvorsen’s most popular works.
The Symphony No. 1 in C minor was written in 1923 when Halvorsen was aged 60 and is in the late-Romantic style of composers - similar to Svendsen and perhaps Dvořák. He knew that the work could be criticised as old-fashioned, but he said ‘… I write it because I want to and don’t give a damn about either the present time or posterity.’ The first movement is dominated by a strong heroic theme and a secondary tune which also occurs in the last movement. The second movement could have been written by Tchaikovsky such is its romantic fervour. The Scherzo is fresh and original, with a trio section reminiscent of a Norwegian folk-dance. The Finale is good humoured and comes to an exciting conclusion. The influence of Svendsen is obvious, but Halvorsen writes superior tunes!
This disc is a winner, and demonstrates that Halvorsen deserves much better than to be known only as the composer of a good march. As a tunesmith he is close to Grieg and deserves wider recognition outside Norway. Neeme Järvi is one of the best conductors around and the Bergen Philharmonic responds magnificently to his baton. A most enjoyable disc.
Arthur Baker
A most enjoyable disc.