Scandinavian Classics - Volume 3
CD 1
Edvard GRIEG (1843 – 1907)
Symphonic Dances, op.64 (1898) [25:24]
Norwegian Dances, op.35 (1881) [15:46]
Harald SĆVERUD (1897 – 1992)
Peer Gynt – Incidental Music to Ibsen’s play, op.28 (1947) [34:09]
CD 2
Jean SIBELIUS (1865 – 1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, op.47 (1903/1904 rev 1905) [33:10]
Four Lemminkainen Legends, op.22 (1893/1900) [44:50]
Emil Telmányi (violin)
Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra/Erik Tuxen (CD1), Thomas Jensen (CD2)
rec. 10-11 May 1952 (Grieg), 29-30 August, 2 and 12 September 1949 (Sćverud), 21-23 April 1952 (Concerto), July 1953 (Legends) ADD
Re–issues of Tono LPX35003 (Grieg), HMV Z328/330 and 346 (Sćverud), Tono LPX 35002 (Concerto), LXT 2841 (Legends)
DANACORD DACOCD 697-698 [75:46 + 78:26]

Grieg’s reputation as a miniaturist tends to overshadow his achievement in larger forms and the two works presented here are cases in point. There is no reason why either work should suffer the relative neglect which seems to be their lot. The Symphonic Dances is a well conceived set of four pieces, with the movements related musically, together making a very attractive suite. The orchestration is bold and colourful, extrovert even, and perhaps it is this which some find too outgoing and much too un–Grieglike, but there’s plenty to remind one of the composer of Peer Gynt and the Lyric Pieces. Without a doubt, it’s a great piece, and the work contains everything from high drama to lilting dance rhythms. The Norwegian Dances are earlier, slightly less sophisticated, but no less enjoyable. The four pieces are great fun and lighter – but not much – than the Symphonic Dances.

Harald Sćverud is known as major Norwegian Symphonist – he wrote nine – and for the anti–Nazi work Kjempeviseslĺtten (Ballad of Revolt). In 1947 he was commissioned to write incidental music for an anti–romantic production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt and he supplied 29 pieces for the theatre. Subsequently he published 13 of these in two Suites (both for orchestra (1947 and 1954) and solo piano (1950)), as well as a set of twelve for orchestra (1950). This disk contains 15 pieces. Sćverud claimed that, "My music is terribly melancholy – wildly melancholy", but you’d never guess that from these short episodes for they are as extrovert as the Sinfonia Dolorosa is serious and dark. In general this music is pure fun, and as far removed from Grieg’s work for the same play as could be imagined. As the production was anti–romantic so too is this music. There’s a lot of what we would call music-hall, mixed with some outrageous parody and satire. It’s raucous, sometimes over–the–top, and great fun. Sćverud attended the recording sessions for his work so we can be assured that this is truly authoritative.

Emil Telmányi was Carl Nielsen’s son–in–law, and he was one of that composer’s major advocates, but his repertoire was wide and it is our loss that he made so few recordings. He made his debut in Berlin, in 1911, with the Elgar Concerto. This reminds me of the time I was privileged to be invited to take tea with him at his home, and talk with him about his career. Although over 90 at the time he spoke in very good English and his memories were vivid and entertaining. I mention this because of the Elgar Concerto. He told me that he had heard of the work, and seen a score, and asked if he could give the European premičre. The publishers refused, saying that Kreisler, who had given the first performance in London, had the right to that. So Telmányi put the thought out of his head until one day he was walking down the street in Berlin and saw a poster announcing the European premičre of the Elgar Concerto, in Berlin, and it was to be given by him! This was only a couple of weeks away and he learned the work quickly. I doubt that this was the European premičre but it makes a good story! He then went on to tell me that he gave one of the first recital series devoted entirely to the complete Violin Sonatas of Beethoven. How interesting, I mused, and I shall never forget his reply, “Oh yes” he said, “the pianist was Busoni!” But back to this recording of the Sibelius Concerto, which is very fine, and has much to commend it – one of the highlights is the end of the first movement, which is quite hair–raising in its fire and vivid wildness. I have never heard it played like this! The slow movement is richly romantic, as it should be, and the finale has plenty of spirit with dazzling fireworks from Telmányi and a marvellously galumphing accompaniment. It was at this recording of the Four Legends that Sibelius finally decided on the ordering of the pieces, and Decca placed them in that order on the LP on release.

But enough about these things, what you want to know is how good are these performances? The answer is simple: superb. Tuxen and Jensen are known through their Decca recordings, mainly of Nielsen’s music, both were regular conductors of the Danish Radio Orchestra between 1936 and 1963 and they certainly get the orchestra to play. Tuxen’s interpretations of the Grieg and Sćverud are excellent. He realises the right balance between the various sections of the Grieg works – they do change mood, tempo and dynamic quite often. He also shows a sure light touch when it is needed. In the Sćverud he is quite happy to let the music play and this points the humour and satire perfectly. The recorded sound for these items is first rate, the transfers are exceptional.

Telmányi and Jensen give a solid account of the Sibelius Concerto. Even though Telmányi doesn’t quite have the virtuoso technique of Neveu, Heifetz, Oistrakh or Ricci - just four of the major violinists who recorded the work - this is a fine interpretation, if sometimes lacking in subtlety. The balance favours the soloist, but not so much that it is to the detriment of the orchestra. Jensen’s performance of the Four Legends is without peer - it’s stunning and spectacularly dramatic. The sound for the Legends is superb, really quite dazzling. These performances are of great importance for they show the work of two conductors whose work isn’t as well documented as many and who weren’t seen outside Scandinavia. They also re–introduce us to the music of Sćverud and the playing of Telmányi. This is a real feast for all music-lovers, not just those interested in historic performances.

In his fine note, in the booklet, in English only, Lyndon Jenkins mentions a cycle of the Sibelius Symphonies given by Jensen on Danish Radio, between 1957 and 1963. It is to be hoped that the people at Danacord are doing all they can to find copies of these performances for Jenkins writes they are “recalled with great enthusiasm” and thus we must hear them. Someone, somewhere, will have recorded them even if DR hasn’t retained copies.

Finally, I must say a well deserved Bravo!, and three cheers to Danacord for making these recordings available once again.

Bob Briggs

A well deserved Bravo!, and three cheers to Danacord for making these recordings available once again.