Why the Telemark Chamber Orchestra chose this particular programme
for only their second CD on Norwegian independent label Fabra
is something of a puzzle. The album bears the title 'La Passione',
the nickname of the opening work, Haydn's Symphony no.49.
But in these three works the orchestra has massive competition
from a multitude of recordings, and the truth is that they do
not perform here with very much passion.
In fairness to the ensemble and conductor Lars-Erik ter Jung,
however, the flatness of the playing throughout this disc is
at least partially the fault of the recording, which is described
on the cover as 'True Stereo' - but that is only half the story.
Unusually for a non-studio setting, there is virtually no background
noise; nor is there much in the way of reverberation, a fact
which seems at odds with the church venue. This, and the two-dimensionality
of the strings in particular may well be attributable to zealous
mastering: the whole recording has the inescapable muddy feeling
of 'lossy' digitisation or heavy-handed noise filtration.
Haydn's Symphony no.49 in F minor comes from his so-called
'Sturm und Drang' period, but despite dogged stories attached
to the work, arising from Victorian suppositions - perpetuated
in the CD booklet - 'La Passione' is no more than another asinine
nickname linked to another Haydn symphony that has little to
do with the music. Despite the key, which all four movements
unusually begin in, there is nothing particularly dark or tragic
about the work, and nor is there anything ecclesiastical about
it, aside from the fact that this was Haydn's last symphony
in the old sonata da chiesa slow-fast-slow-fast format.
In fact, in one edition the work was described as "the
good-natured Quaker", most likely after a popular stage
comedy of the time!
Ter Jung takes the orchestra through the work with little overall
enthusiasm, although they do perk up a little in the fast movements.
The Telemark give their best performance in Elgar's Serenade
in E minor, Op. 20, which seems rather out of place sitting
between two Viennese Classics. Elgar once indicated that this
relatively early work was his personal favourite; the pastoral
nostalgic serenity of the Larghetto in particular is undeniably
beautiful, giving tantalising glimpses of many greater works
still to come. Alas, though, much of the typical lushness of
Elgar's strings is lost to the recording process. For no obvious
reason the track listing refers to this work as 'Serenade' (i.e.
with scare quotes).
Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 12 in A, KV. 414 is one of
his finest middle-period concertos. It is one of a 'set' of
three, with KV.413 and 415 (nos. 11 and 13), which Mozart describes
in a letter to his father as: "a happy medium between what
is too easy and too difficult; they are very brilliant, pleasing
to the ear, and natural, without being vapid. There are passages
here and there from which the connoisseurs alone can derive
satisfaction; but these passages are written in such a way that
the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing
Mozart was not quite "at the height of his powers as a
composing piano virtuoso," as the liner notes claim, but
this is still a lovely work. The five winds are hardly used
- this is almost a piano concerto with string orchestra, and
indeed Mozart also prepared a version for piano with string
quartet for the three concertos. The second movement, an Andante
in D, is particularly poignant - a year previously Mozart had
been deeply affected by the death of his friend Johann Christian
Bach, and the main theme here is similar to that in Bach's overture
to his own La Calamità dei Cuori - this is therefore
very likely a tribute. The booklet notes erroneously
state that Mozart's quotation is in the first movement.
Ingrid Andsnes - no relation to Leif Ove, although she was once
a pupil of his - plays well, and the brighter tone of the piano
livens up the strings, but there is nothing that recommends
this interpretation over countless others.
The CD case is made of card, with a standard plastic tray for
the disc. The booklet slides in between two layers of card,
the front cover itself and the inside cover, which shows the
Telemark CO posing with their instruments in colour. The booklet
itself is of a simple but attractive design, reasonably informative
in a standard kind of way, with the odd lapse into slightly