Written in Sand
Poul RUDERS (b.1949) Variations for solo violin (1989) [9:51]
Hafliði HALLGRÍMSSON (b.1941) Offerto (in Memoriam Karl Kvaran) for solo violin, op.13 (1991) [20:03]; Poemi, for violin and strings, op.7 (1984) [19:07]
Esa-Pekka SALONEN (b.1958) Lachen Verlernt, for solo violin (2002) [10:13]
Sølve Sigerland (violin)
Risør Festival Strings/Per Kristian Skalstad
rec. Uranienborg Church, Oslo, 28-29 June and 6 July 2008; Church of the Holy Spirit, Risør, Norway, 26 June 2004 [Poemi]. DDD
SIMAX CLASSICS PSC1301 [59:14]

This disc is essentially intended as a showcase for the undoubted talent of Sølve Sigerland, perhaps better known as violinist for the Grieg Trio since its foundation in 1987. His name appears in lettering twice the size of that of the three featured composers on the front and back covers. He also gets an attractive full-page colour photo and full-page biography to the single paragraph for composers, conductor and orchestra.

An equally valid way of considering it, however, is as forty minutes of music by Iceland's most important composer, Hafliði Hallgrímsson. This is supplemented with an all-too rare opportunity to hear Esa-Pekka Salonen as composer rather than conductor, and a highly approachable piece from the stylistically unpredictable catalogue of Poul Ruders.

Ruders is now widely considered one of Denmark's leading living composers - according to the booklet notes, his works are the most frequently performed of any Danish composer, either in Denmark or abroad. But this reputation owes little to his works from the 1970s and 1980s, where he took stylistic pluralism to often tasteless extremes of pastiche. Happily, by the time Ruders composed Variations for solo violin, he had lost interest in crude popular experimentalism, and the Variations mark a turn to lyrically expressive music.

For those who know Salonen only as a conductor, Lachen Verlernt may come as a very pleasant surprise. Salonen's first compositions date back to the end of the 1970s. Although his corpus is fairly small - hardly surprising, given his conducting commitments - his works are highly original. Lachen Verlernt is no exception. It is a lyrical, passionate, chaconne-like piece, the title taken from a poem by Albert Guiraud; also set by Schoenberg in his Pierrot Lunaire. The violinist is cast, in Salonen's words, as "a serious clown trying to help the audience to connect with emotions they have lost, or believe they have lost." The work builds to a dramatic, frenetic neo-Vivaldian climax.

Edinburgh-based Hallgrímsson was something of a late starter as a composer. He was almost thirty by the time he published his op.1 in 1970, and twelve years later he had still only reached op.6! But in 1983 he took up composition full time, retiring as principal cellist to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and since then has been catching up, with the result that he now has a considerable body of works under his belt, particularly for strings, and especially for his own instrument. His first work published as full-time composer was the Poemi op.7, for solo violin and string orchestra. On a CD ostensibly devoted to the solo violin, this orchestral work is perhaps a trifle conspicuous. It is also the only work on the disc listed as a live recording, presumably meaning recorded in one go before an audience - though any audience present keeps very quiet. There are a few extra-musical squeaks and shuffles, but these serve to give the work an extra frisson.

Not that it needs extra frisson, particularly in the dark, dramatic second and third movements, 'The Sacrifice of Isaac' and 'Jacob in Combat with the Angel'. The first movement is entitled 'The Dream of Jacob', another Biblical title, but all three actually come from allegorical paintings by Marc Chagall. Poemi is both a violin concerto and a dramatic representation of Chagall's pictures. This is a powerful, virtuosic work - a modern masterpiece, in fact - certainly spikily contemporary in sound, but still fundamentally tonal and with plenty of melody, if not exactly melodious.

Hallgrímsson's other work on this disc is the Offerto for solo violin, an elegy in memory of his friend, the Icelandic artist Karl Kvaran. The titles of the four sections are after Kvaran's paintings, the first of which, 'Written in Sand' gives the CD its title. In the three slower movements, the bow action may be thought of as imitative of the artist's brush-strokes. The third section, 'The Flight of Time', is a Paganinian frenzy of almost outrageous virtuosity, in which Sigerland often seems to be accompanying himself on a second violin. It’s another work of substantial originality.

Sigerland himself does not play quite faultlessly from beginning to end, but this is a very demanding programme for any performer. He deserves plaudits for helping to bring this otherwise sadly neglected music to the public's attention - his first solo disc for Simax (PSC1229) showcased the music of radical Norwegian composer Bjarne Brustad. Nonetheless, it is a shame that the CD is relatively short. If there were no other suitable works by these composers for Sigerland, there are plenty of other Scandinavians, Finns especially, in desperate need of wider audiences.

Still, for its 59 minutes, the booklet is neat, detailed, glossy; the quality of sound is very good in general, though there is occasional passing traffic and the odd electrical hum just audible. The church acoustics are a little too resonant to be considered ideal for solo violin - this is most noticeable in the quiet opening to Offerto, in which the sound quality is less pleasing generally.

In sum, most violin lovers interested in the more tonal end of the late 20th century music spectrum should find this a very satisfying acquisition.

Byzantion

Most violin lovers interested in the more tonal end of late 20th century music should find this a very satisfying acquisition.