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Norwegian Safari
Håkon BERGE (b.1954)
Girlander, for accordion [9:21]
Antonio BIBALO (1922-2008)
Accordion Sonata, Quasi una Fantasia [11:50]
Wolfgang PLAGGE (b.1960)
Fractals, for accordion, op.142 [6:08]
Erlend SKOMSVOLL (b.1969)
Piece for accordion [5:58]
Terje BJØRKLUND (b.1945)
Meditatio, for accordion and violin [7:15]
Sigmund LILLEBJERKA (b.1931)
Dazzle Dance, for accordion [3:12]
Øivind Farmen (accordion)
Elise Båtnes (violin)
rec. Farmen Studio; Inger Helgesen Stuidproduksjon (Meditatio). No dates given. DDD
AURORA ACD 5064 [43:45]

Experience Classicsonline

A safari is an overland journey undertaken by hunters or tourists - quite how six works for accordion which "explore the ambiguous territory of timbral similarities and the relationship between classical structure and informal styles", all written by contemporary Norwegian composers, come into it is anyone's guess - there is no explanation in the booklet notes!

Aurora is the label of the Norwegian Society of Composers, which laudably "works towards creating opportunities for the dissemination of contemporary music and for increasing public awareness of this art form." So far the label has published nearly 150 CDs.

This latest release opens with Håkon Berge's imaginative Girlander ('Garland'), a work requiring considerable dexterity and stamina. It begins with almost rodent-like scurryings, squeakings and scratchings, and remains primarily in the higher registers throughout, even in the more reflective middle section.

Antonio Bibalo's Sonata, Quasi una Fantasia, composed in 1977, is the most substantial piece in the programme, and the booklet describes it as the "focal point, the heart of the recording perhaps." Though Bibalo did not write much chamber music, this was not his only piece for accordion - in 1988 he wrote Two Nocturnes. This is a complex, often introspective work and not easy-going, by any means, but still tonal and, with perseverance, approachable and ultimately rewarding.

Fractals is probably a fairly common title for music composed in the 21st and late 20th century, given the modernist fascination and post-modernist obsession with ostinatos. Wolfgang Plagge's work was a test-piece in an international accordion competition - in fact, the score can be downloaded for free from the associated website here - and certainly requires considerable technique. The notes describe this as a "dialogue between pedal notes and light echo effects", but that makes it sound less interesting than it is.

Hyperbole best describes the claim in the booklet notes that "the name Erlend Skomsvoll was on everybody's lips in 2000 when the Norwegian pianist arranged a selection of songs by Chick Corea for the Molde International Jazz Festival." Nevertheless, Skomsvoll’s Stykke ('Piece') is not without merit, as it pulses like the heart of a runner who periodically pauses for breath.

Terje Bjørklund's simple Meditatio is probably the most immediately appealing and also the most beautiful work on this CD. According to the notes, Meditatio is "in jazz terrain", with a "lyrical, almost film music-like atmosphere about the music." The only part of that frankly half-baked description which is accurate is the "lyrical". This is an intimate, gorgeous, evocative, folk-like work, with the violin colour both complementing and augmenting the accordion.

Finally, though neither dazzling nor dancy, Sigmund Lillebjerka's Dazzle Dance is an impish little piece which includes a brief burst of pure percussion - button clicking. The booklet describes Lillebjerka as an organist, but this seems to be a mistake - he is primarily a composer of orchestral and chamber music, and Dazzle Dance is his sole work for accordion.

Øivind Farmen, pictured incidentally in brooding pose in the CD booklet, performs the often quite demanding music on this disc very well. Though his biographical notes are adequate, it would have been nice to have had some information about the magnificent-sounding instrument he plays.

The sound quality is outstanding - though the booklet does admit to both mixing and mastering.
The CD case is a cardboard one which looks and feels nice when new - lovely photos of Norwegian mountains and lochs - but which will inevitably deteriorate with use and age; for one thing, the booklet is housed in a slot which will eventually need Sellotape for life-support.

In sum, this disc is worthy of genuine consideration by anyone interested in adventurous accordion music, although at a rather parsimonious 44 minutes in length, digital download, the format in which it was originally released in November 2010, is much the better buy.

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