Svendsen is undergoing a mini-renaissance at the moment. CPO
and Naxos have devoted some volumes to his symphonic and orchestral
compositions, and now Chandos comes along with the first volume
(of four) in its orchestral series.
One thing for which Svendsen has always been saluted is his
masterful orchestration. It’s rich but not upholstered, characterful
without being garish. In most respects it’s perfectly suited
to his material. That in the first volume is well selected to
show the variety of source material available to him, and almost
everything was written in the 1870s, around the time when the
composer was in his mid 30s.
Karneval in Paris is genial and high-spirited. Looking
at the score over the composer’s shoulder a friend said to him;
‘It looks amusing’ and sauntered off. Indeed, it is amusing
in its capricious and romantic moments, and the friend – Richard
Wagner, no less – was perfectly right. Svendsen always paces
his paragraphs with perception, and here, as elsewhere, one
feels the music just the perfect length. I would only add that
the work seems to me more Carnival than Parisian. Efficient,
taut but not especially emotive Romeo and Juliet demonstrates
Svendsen’s professional skills. It doesn’t draw out much in
the way of sub-surface depths but is assuredly competent. A
wholly different work is the Fest-Polonaise of 1873.
This is a big, swaggering affair, brassy and percussion-rich
with an eye for lissom decorative writing too.
Another of his bigger ten-minute studies is Zorahayda derived
from a story by Washington Irving on a Moorish theme. This is
one of Svenden’s ‘legendary’ topics, and his wistful, superbly
illustrative response is one of the finest things here. There’s
a role for solo violin, and plenty of fertile and imaginative
colour and atmosphere. Neeme Järvi directs with apt sympathy.
I wonder if anyone remembers the old LP recording of this made
by Grüner-Higge with the Oslo Philharmonic?
The two Norwegian Rhapsodies are by turn bucolic, avuncular
and stirring – and the leisurely central panel of the Second
is especially lovely. Träume is arranged from Wagner’s
Wesendonck Lieder whilst The Girl’s Sunday on the
Mountain Pasture (Sæterjentens Søndag) is a newly harmonised
version of an original by Ole Bull. Another tiny example of
the warmth of his timbral imagination comes in the shape of
the folk song Last year I was Herding Mountain Goats (I Fjol
Thus several facets of Svendsen’s art can be appreciated here;
legend, tone poem, orchestrations, folksongs, rhapsodies, and
a juicy polonaise. The recordings bloom very nicely and the
Bergen orchestra plays with polish and enthusiasm. These are
pretty much front-runners now, but the historically minded should
still hang on to that Odd Grüner-Hegge disc as well as Øivin
Fjeldstad’s Oslo recordings of Svendsen’s music. Outclassed
sonically, they still rank high in the discography, but CD-minded
listeners will be delighted with the new Chandos series.
see also Brian Wilson's review
in Download Roundup