Nordic Violin Favorites

Carl Gustav Sparre OLSEN (1903-1984)
Six Old Village Songs from Lom in Norway [6:55]
Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974)
Suite No. 3 (Version for Two violins and String Orchestra), Op. 19 [11:06]
Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871-1927)
Two Sentimental Romances for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 28 [10:40]
Ole Bornemann BULL (1810-1880)
Los Recuerdos de la Habana [7:10]
A Mountain Vision [7:41]
Johan HALVORSEN (1864-1935)
Norwegian Dance No. 3 for Violin and Orchestra [4:28]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Six Humoresques for Violin and Orchestra, Opp. 87 and 89 [19:54]
Christian SINDING (1856-1941)
Evening Mood [6:29]
Henning Kraggerud (violin)
Dalasinfoniettan/Bjarte Engeset
rec. 27-31 May 2011, Kristinehallen, Falun, Sweden, DDD
NAXOS 8.572827 [74:48]  

This fabulous recording features lesser known violin repertoire, played with a keen advocacy by soloist Henning Kraggerud and Dalasinfoniettan. Excepting the works of Ole Bull, the remaining pieces were composed between 1910 and 1930. However, none of this music embraces the radically dissonant sounds found in Austrian-Germanic music of this period. Anyone with a love of Holst and Vaughan Williams, Grieg and J.P.E. Hartmann will positively revel in this repertoire.
The CD opens with six modestly arranged Norwegian folksongs by Carl Olsen. The first movement begins with violin alone, played here with great sensitivity and refinement. Olsen ensure that even when the orchestra enters, the melody always stands out, keeping the harmonic writing fairly simple so that it compliments, rather than competes, with the melody. Throughout these songs, Kraggerud’s sound is burnished and rich, varying his vibrato to give greater shape and ardor to his phrasing, while the orchestra led by Bjarte Engeset, prove to be equally sensitive partners.

Atterberg’s Suite No. 3 was originally intended for a violin and viola soloist; this arrangement, for two violins, is its premiere recording. Both solo parts are played by Kraggerud, and while there is nothing to fault in his playing or in the engineer’s dubbing, I found myself resistant to this idea, as I would have liked to hear him interact with another player. Nevertheless, the playing is stunningly beautiful, the forlorn atmosphere of the first two movements gently dispelled by the final movement’s more uplifting waltz.
The Two Sentimental Romances very much reminded me of Vaughan Williams, in both their use of modes and constantly shifting textures. The first Romance, in A Major, is bright and inviting, a perfect evocation of a beautiful summer day, while the second F-minor Romance, marked Allegro patetico, brings greater intensity and a return to that forlorn atmosphere that many Nordic composers easily inhabit.
Ole Bull was considered the “Nordic Paganini”, well known not only for his great virtuosity but also his improvisational abilities. Memories of Havana was composed during Bull’s 1844 tour of Cuba. The score and solo part are lost, but a complete set of orchestral parts survives, so Kraggerud has reconstructed the solo part. The work’s structure is similar to Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsodies: several sections based on a national folk tune, connected by interlude material that is meant to give the listener (and performers) a break between moments of virtuosic writing. Mountain Vision features a tune by Bull that became incredibly popular in Norway, so much so that a text was written for the tune, called “The Herdgirl’s Sunday.” Similarly structured, the work includes not only includes Bull’s melody, but four other folk tunes. Both are performed with plenty of fire and beauty, without ever becoming over sentimentalized.
The final selections feature the music by the better known composers, Halvorsen, Sibelius and Sinding. Halvorsen’s Norwegian Dance No. 3, as the title suggests, is predominantly light-hearted and joyful in its outer sections, though the middle section features gentler, less rhythmic music that features a long-breathed, arching melody. Sibelius’s Six Humoresques express what the composer called “the sadness of living a life that was only occasionally illuminated by the sun”. These are performances of great sophistication and delicate beauty, more affecting that the rather heavy-handed treatment they receive in the Mutter/Staatskappelle/Previn 1996 DG recording.

Evening Mood clearly shows the influence of Sinding’s four years of study in Leipzig, featuring warmth of color that gently dispels the somewhat despondent mood of the previous Sibelius set, making for a satisfying hour plus of gorgeous music-making.
The recording itself is truly excellent, the soloist well integrated into the sound-picture. The engineers have fully captured the room’s warm ambience without any loss of clarity and there is a good front to back perspective. Notes are excellent and informative, but printed in a font size that might actually be in negative numbers. I look forward to more recordings from these performers.  

David A. McConnell 

This fabulous recording features lesser known violin repertoire played with a keen advocacy.