Thomas D. A. TELLEFSEN (1823-1874)
CD 1
Four Mazurkas op. 1 (1846) [10:34]
Nocturne in F major op. 2 (1849) [4:41]
Four Mazurkas op. 3 (1849) [8:59]
Trois Valses brillantes op. 5 (1851) [6:53]
Tarantelle op. 6 (1851) [3:41]
Elégie op. 7 (1852) [7:15]
Huldredansen op. 9 (1850s) [2:45]
Adagio et Rondo op. 10 (1850) [9:06]
2e Nocturne in E major Op. 11 (1853) [4:02]
Thème original et Fantaisie Op. 12 [10:06]
CD 2
Sonate op. 13 in C minor (1848) [17:51]
Mazurkas op. 14 (1853-54) [14:13]
Feuillets d’Album op. 16 [10:43]
3e Nocturne in B flat major op. 17 (c.1850s pub. 1885) [4:55]
Grande Polonaise op. 18 in C sharp major (1855) [7:42]
Allegretto in A major op.20 [3:35]
Toccata in F major op. 22 [8:58]
‘La petite mendiante’ op. 23 (c.1857) [2:42]
Grande Mazurka op. 24 in B flat major (1857) [3:52]
Grande Etude in E major op. 25 [3:31]
CD 3
Bruraslaatten/Bridal Tune op. 26 (1850s) [3:09]
Valse in D flat major op. 27 (1850s) [3:34]
Ballade in C minor op. 28 (1860) [5:42]
Marche Triomphale op. 29 in E flat major (1860) [5:15]
5e Grande Valse op. 30 no. 1 in F major (c.1860-62) [4:02]
6e Grande Valse op. 30 no. 2 in F minor (c.1860-62) [4:02] ???
Mazurka/Polskdans in A major op. 33 (1860s) [4:17]
‘Au travers d'un songe’ op. 34 [3:34]
Capriccio appassionato Op. 36 (1868) [5:37]
Impromptu op. 38 in G major [3:54]
4e Nocturne op. 39 in G flat major (1872) [5:04]
Walhallafesten op. 40 (c.1873) [3:51]
Mélodies écossaises op. 42 [7:29]
Exercice en sixtes Op. 43 [3:01]
Pavane de la Reine Elisabeth op. 44 (pub.1881) [8:19]
CD 4
Moderato [6:41]
Variations of Choral in G major ‘kimer i klokker’ [0:58]
Prelude in G major [2:54]
Lento-Allegro moderato-tempo primo [7:07]
Larghetto [1:47]
Prelude in G major [1:35]
Suite in G minor [3:38]
Fughetta’r, versettes & cantabilae [22 :37]
Prelude in G minor [1:38]
Prelude Andantino in E minor [3:04]
Prelude in G major [2:41]
Prelude in D major [1:27]
Prelude E phrygian [1:14]
Fuga D dorian [1:37]
Prelude in G major [0:39]
Adagio in D minor [1 :05]
Prelude in G major [0:55]
Interlude in C major [0:59]
Variations in G major on ‘Jesus styr de mine tanker’ [1:16]
Prelude in G minor ‘I Jesu Navn’[2:57]
Einar Steen-Nøkleberg (piano)
rec. March, May, July 2009, Sofienberg kirke, 25, 31 October 2009, Lindemansalen NMH (CD 4)
SIMAX CLASSICS PSC1239 [4 CDs: 68:12 + 79:59 + 70:57 + 66:59]

Thomas Dyke Akland Tellefsen bears the weight of having been best known as a student of ‘the divine’ Frédéric Chopin, and therefore little more than a footnote in musical history. He is referred to in Poland as Chopin’s only pupil, as the others consisted of nobility whose money was a welcome way of keeping Chopin’s finances afloat. Tellefsen was introduced to Chopin by Georges Sand, and the two virtuoso players and composers became both friends and colleagues. Tellefsen honoured his teacher’s dying wishes in 1849 and continued as a teacher to Chopin’s students. Simax Classics has already done sterling work in raising Tellefsen’s profile as a composer, having released Einar Steen-Nøkleberg’s recordings of the piano concertos (PSC1232) and chamber works (PSC1226 see review).

This is not the first ‘complete’ recording of Tellefsen’s piano works, with that of Malgorzata Jaworska on the Acte Préalable label (see review) having been available for a while now. This set has a bonus in the Sonate pour deux pianos Op. 41 but not the unpublished works on CD 4 of this Simax collection. One thing I noticed about Jaworska’s set is that the timings are almost invariably longer than Steen-Nøkleberg’s. Not having the CDs available I compared a few samples online and indeed, the dancing quality of the first Four Mazurkas for example is almost entirely absent in her playing. She seems to want to find Chopinesque qualities in the music where the pieces have more simple honesty than poetic intent. I’m sure there are good things on her set, and she seems better in more abstract pieces such as the Sonata, but didn’t feel inspired to delve too deeply into the comparatively leaden and over-cooked examples of the waltzes I heard, and feel very safe in recommending Steen-Nøkleberg’s set far more favourably.

So, luxuriating in fine piano sound in a sympathetic church acoustic and confident we’re onto a winner, here are a few comments and highlights. One of the nice things about the programming for this set is that it is done chronologically, in order of opus numbers. Beginning with the Four Mazurkas op.1 there is a clear influence of Chopin, and while Steen-Nøkleberg gives good weight to significant musical points the joy in these early pieces is their sparkling sense of the dance, which comes through in fine style. Tellefsen was clearly under the spell of Parisian style, and the Valses brillantes clearly play to please those audiences. There are however enough moments in the Mazurkas where the fresh air of Norwegian folk music comes through in his melodic gestures and harmonies. If you like Grieg’s piano music, then I can safely guarantee you will enjoy at least some of Tellefsen’s. Though his attitude was to avoid nationalist musical statements and to adopt more European traditions quite consciously, and his style is different to Grieg whom he predates, there do exist lines which can be traced which point to the ways later generations integrated Norwegian flavour with established classical forms. The Thème original et Fantaisie Op. 12 is a case in point in this regard. CD 1 also has the remarkable, funereal Elégie op. 7 written in memory of the popular ‘singer prince’ Gustav of Sweden who died in 1852.

The influence of Liszt is another element in Tellefsen’s piano works, and the Adagio et Rondo in B minor and the Thème original et Fantaisie have some of Liszt’s dramatic character and religious fervor in them. This is something which is also notable on CD 2 with the Grande Polonaise op.18, and works of substance and seriousness of purpose also include the well crafted Sonata op.13, though this lacks the distinctive and forward-looking character of either Chopin or Liszt. The Feuillets d’Album are delightfully sweeping dances and very much of their time, with the last a Marche funèbre which is a clear homage to Chopin’s most famous sonata movement. Virtuoso show pieces are in the majority in CD 3, with high quality but not distinctively memorable Grand Valse and other traditional forms delivering music for dedications, each of which is given with the titles of the works. The C minor Ballade is a fascinating and moving work, dedicated to Rossini, but eight years too early to be a memorial. A few pieces also indicate further Norwegian leanings, and the Walhallafesten and Bruraslaatten may have been written for annual carnival celebrations for Norwegian artists in Paris. The majority of these pieces keep faith with the spirit of Chopin, and works such as the final Pavane de la Reine Elisabeth are very fine indeed.

Something of an extra highlight and most certainly a USP for this set is on CD 4, with sensitive performances of Tellefsen’s unpublished manuscripts. These are played on a fine-sounding period instrument, an Érard piano. The booklet notes mention that Tellefsen would have worked on pianos made by Ignaz Pleyel, but the instrument to which all aspired in Paris were those by Érard, and from the spring of 1843 Tellefsen was given permission to practice on the pianos in the Érard studio for three hours every day. The manuscript works are largely studies of one kind or another, or liturgical pieces. These often show a more personal character than many of the published works however, and as is correctly pointed out in Harald Herresthal’s notes, are easily of a standard equal to the pieces with opus numbers. The versetti are organ ‘verses’ used between the sung verses of hymns, and the preludes which conclude the programme are also given pedal lines on a third stave for performance on organ. I particularly like these miniatures, and the mix and range from baroque style fugue counterpoint to often dramatic mature works make for a fascinating journey through Tellefsen’s life work.

This release has its four beautifully recorded discs housed in a clever multiple jewel case which can require a little dexterity to manage. The nicely designed booklet is illustrated with atmospheric period photographs and is in a format a little larger than usual, being held outside the jewel case but in an outer sleeve which keeps everything together in a desirable package. Einar Steen-Nøkleberg has written a heartfelt essay at the end of the booklet, ‘A Cultural Heritage’, about Tellefsen’s historical context and our perspective on him 150 years on, as well as his personal relationship to the composer’s work. “T.D.A. Tellefsen is an important figure in the Norwegian musical heritage, and I have given of my very soul to bring him into the light in the year 2011.” The evidence of this can be heard very clearly in this superb set, and this is a collection which deserves pride of place in any fine library of piano music.

Dominy Clements

Deserves pride of place in any fine collection.