Ferry Tales
Øystein BAADSVIK (b.1966)
Ordner seg (It’ll Be All Right) [4:38]
Erlend SKOMSVOLL (b.1969)
Prince Igor – Fantasy on a Theme by A. Borodin [3:33]
Dancing on a Blue Ribbon [5:00]
Vise (A Simple Melody) [3:10]
Harold ARLEN (1905-1986)
Somewhere Over the Rainbow (arr. Erlend Skomsvoll) [6:32]
Tango [4:30]
Salme i g-moll (Hymn in G minor) [5:03]
Bjarne AMDAHL (1903-1968)
Slipesteinsvalsen (Grindstone Waltz) (arr. Erlend Skomsvoll) [4:47]
Uten tekst (Without Words) [4:49]
Ketil BJØRNSTAD (b.1952) / Erlend SKOMSVOLL
Sommernatt ved fjorden (Summer Night by the Fjord) - Fantasy on a theme by Ketil Bjørnstad [5:22]
Knud Vad THOMSEN (1905-1971)
Jeg plukker fløylsgræs (Picking Velvet Grass) (arr. Erlend Skomsvoll) [4:04]
Sangen (The Song) [3:42]
Ordner seg II (It’ll Be All Right II) (arr. Erlend Skomsvoll) [4:05]
Déjà vu (arr. Erlend Skomsvoll) [3:17]
Øystein Baadsvik (tuba), Erlend Skomsvoll (piano), The Trondheim Soloists
rec. Jan.2005 and April 2009, Studio 13, NRK Tyholt, Trondheim, Norway. DDD
BIS BIS-CD-1875 [63:58]

What do most people know about tuba? That it is that huge hippo that makes those raspy grunts three or four times during a symphony. Well, what most people think about the tuba is wrong. Indeed, it can reach to the lowest places where no other instrument can go, and it's in this capacity that orchestral composers use it most frequently. But the tuba is more than this. It is a full-ranged instrument with a pleasant baritonal voice in the upper register. Personally, I would prefer an hour of listening to a solo tuba than to a solo French horn: the tuba's voice is clearer, without the snuffling nasality of the horn. The tuba is also endowed with a full virtuosic ability. In the right hands it can be a brilliant soloing instrument. The problem is, the right hands are few and far between.

Øystein Baadsvik is one of today’s leading tuba players. He is allegedly the only one that maintains a successful solo career, without keeping a chair in a major orchestra. He has premiered some fifty solo works, many of them composed for him. He has issued a number of excellent recordings characterized by attractive programming and highest level of quality. It will not be an exaggeration to say that in the last few years he has done as much for the emancipation of this unjustly obscure instrument as Vaughan Williams and Hindemith did in the Fifties with their pioneering tuba concerto and sonata.

On the present disc, as on his earlier ones, Baadsvik amazes with his virtuosity and gentle touch. In his hands, the tuba is light and agile. In fact, it rarely descends to the dark low places which are considered its designated realm. It mostly sings in the warm baritonal register, but sometimes soars even higher. There it does not get the comic look of a flying elephant, a basso buffo that risked to go too high; instead it sounds calm and natural.

This disc is unusual in several ways. First, it is not tuba-centred. The piano has an important role, as well as the strings. It's usually the combination of some two of these three voices that you hear. The pianist is the composer, arranger and conductor Erlend Skomsvoll. The third voice comes from the Trondheim Soloists, a Grammy-nominated chamber string ensemble. They are resonant and delicate. Baadsvik's virtuosity is far from being offered as the main attraction of the disc: the tuba is silent for long stretches of time. The focus is on the music itself, and the tuba player just happens to be a virtuoso. Such unselfishness is praiseworthy.

Second, the music is not mainstream classical. It's more of the James Galway's "popular" style: sweet and mostly undemanding. This similarity is enhanced by the string envelope in which it is wrapped. However, Skomsvoll's piano brings in attractive jazziness, which does not let the music roll into smooth "easy listening". Skomsvoll worked with Chick Corea, and indeed there is something from this jazz master in his technique. There are only two internationally known tunes on the disc: Borodin's Fly Away on the Wings of the Wind from Prince Igor, and Arlen's Somewhere Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz. The remaining pieces are either by Baadsvik, by Skomsvoll, or are Skomsvoll's arrangements of pieces by other Scandinavian composers. The compositions are short: 3 to 6 minutes long. The arrangements are diverse and inventive, and maintain interest over the disc’s span.

One musical presence that I felt was the "New Age Music" of groups such as Secret Garden. However, without the electronic component and repetitiveness of the conventional "New Age", there is none of the feeling of "cheapness" that so often comes with such music. Do not get me wrong: Ferry Tales is not music for pure relaxation and meditation. It is inspired and calls for active listening. The mood of optimism and harmony prevails, although some pieces are darker and more dramatic - such as Baadsvik's own Tango, or the Prince Igor arrangement. My favorite is the Grindstone Waltz: it is a mini-story that starts poignantly nostalgic, but then the strings become angry. Picking Velvet Grass is just a great tune for a song. Déjà vu and Dancing on a Blue Ribbon have the light-footed airiness of a folk dance.

The liner-note contains a reminiscence by Baadsvik on the album's long gestation, and brief descriptions of each piece by Baadsvik and Skomsvoll, as well as the biography of the performers - all this in English, Norwegian, German and French. The recording quality is at the BIS level that we are accustomed to, catching well the three voices.

You don't need to be a tuba enthusiast in order to listen to this disc: but you'll probably become one at the end. The music has warmth and depth, and is presented with love. On the other hand, you won't encounter serious musical experiences here. This is good for evening ambience and wears well over repeated listening. It's not boring. It's not a must, but it is nice.

Oleg Ledeniov

Baadsvik amazes with his virtuosity and light touch.