Johan SVENDSEN (1840-1911)
Orchestral Works - Volume 2
Norwegian Rhapsody No.3 Op.21 (1876) [8:43]
Norwegian Rhapsody No.4 Op.22 (1877) [11:47]
Cello Concerto in D major Op.7 (1870) [19:18]
Symphony No.2 in B flat major Op.15 (1876) [31:56]
Truls Mørk (cello)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Grieghallen, Bergen Norway, 27 August 2010 (Rhapsody No.3); 31 August 2010
(Rhapsody No.4); 23-25 August 2011 (Concerto, Symphony)
CHANDOS CHAN 10711 [72:09]
Neeme Järvi’s association with the wonderful Bergen Philharmonic
continues to bear impressive fruit. Their Chandos-Halvorsen set was a recent
highlight and this second disc in the Svendsen cycle continues the good impression.
Chandos follow the same programming formula as they did with the Halvorsen creating
a concert-like disc with music of a range of scale and musical weight. Given
that Svendsen remains a relatively unfamiliar composer this makes excellent
sense offering the listener a good overview of his style.
With the exception of the cello concerto I have encountered all of the music
here before although differently coupled. Tempting - and neat - though it must
be for progammers to bring together all four of the Norwegian Rhapsodies sequentially
I think Chandos are extremely wise to split them as here. This disc opens with
the third and fourth. They were conceived as a set and given adjacent opus numbers.
Svendsen found the traditional melodies in a published collection. Unlike some
other nationalist composers he was not a field collector. These works are simply
and effectively presented. Liner writer B. Morten Christophersen points up a
compositional technique Svendsen uses called ‘changing background technique’.
In essence this means that the tune in the foreground is repeated unchanged
while ‘background’ harmony and accompaniment varies. This does rather
support Constant Lambert’s view that all you can do with a folk-tune is
play it again … but louder. Beautiful as these melodies and their arrangements
are I must admit four
rhapsodies on the bounce would be too much! Also, Svendsen does not make
any effort to give them a nature setting - for want of a better term - in the
way Holst or Vaughan Williams do in their Somerset or Norfolk Rhapsodies. So
if these pieces are appealing but not remarkable they do serve to point up the
many virtues of these performances which are fully alive to the natural ebb
and flow of this music. We hear lovely, supple and elegant playing - I’m
thinking especially of the principal oboe who is stunning throughout. Also,
in the Grieghallen, Chandos have found a recording venue that allows them to
produce a consistently fine sound of ideal richness and warmth but with inner
detail that is also abundantly clear. Likewise, as I noted with the Halvorsen
releases, Järvi seems in his element producing readings that have his hallmark
energy and flair but with the emotional engagement that has been lacking in
some of his more recent discs.
The rarity on this disc is the early Cello Concerto. In its use of one-linked-movement
form Morten Christophersen’s liner-note points up the Liszt E flat piano
concerto as a probable model. Formally that might indeed be the case but this
piece occupies a very different emotional sphere with restrained lyricism in
the place of Lisztian display. Truls Mørk is a predictably fine and insightful
soloist with just the right rich but unforced tone to make the most of this
unpretentious but very appealing work. This has been recorded before back in
1974 by cellist Hege Waldeland but to all intents and purposes this will be
a first encounter for many collectors and indeed the main reason for considering
purchasing the disc. By that criterion, even allowing for the risk of other
duplications, this is worth the financial outlay. No lost masterpiece for sure
but a beautiful reflective work that deserves to be better known both on disc
and in the concert hall.
You can understand why the two Svendsen symphonies made such a stir - both were
written at a time when Norwegian ‘Art’ music was not given much
import in its own right. The first is a work of remarkable potential but it
is the second, recorded here, that shows the composer at his considerable best.
Again, it does not seek revelatory depths or profundity but as a thoroughly
enjoyable work of great melodic beauty it is as satisfying a half hour’s
music-making as any. Interestingly this is not Järvi’s first recording.
He coupled the two Svendsen symphonies on a BIS disc played by the Gothenburg
Symphony Orchestra as long ago as 1986. It makes for a fascinating comparison
and one without an outright ‘winner’. Järvi in 1986 is nearly
two minutes quicker than 2011 - every movement swifter to a varying degree.
The BIS recording is predictably excellent too but less opulent than Chandos.
The extra thrust in the earlier version of the first movement makes it more
dramatic and exciting but the poetry of the second movement Andante Sostenuto
is diminished and the Bergen clarinetist is a subtler player. Likewise the gentle
Intermezzo third movement - one of those pieces that hovers on the edge
of high class light music - benefits from the more benevolent incarnation of
2011. However, the final movement again gains from those little moments of adrenaline-driven
drama that typified so many Järvi recordings from the 1980s. Also, the
extra edge to the BIS sound allows the brass writing in the final pages to blaze
through. If I had to choose one Järvi version of the symphony alone I would
opt for the BIS version by the shortest possible head but that is a reflection
of my stylistic preference.
I have not heard volume
1 of this particular series as it focused on a collection of Svendsen’s
slighter works. With this second volume and the inclusion of the rare concerto
and excellent Second Symphony it has clearly hit its stride. One assumes the
third volume will include the First Symphony and the Violin Concerto. There
is the infamous story that Svendsen’s actress wife threw the full score
of a Third Symphony onto the fire in a fit of pique thus inspiring a similar
scene in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler - now if Chandos could rediscover
that work …?
There have been numerous other discs of Svendsen’s music - a three CD
set from CPO with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra under Terje Mikkelsen
(CPO 777 3722) covers the same repertoire as these Chandos discs but with the
exclusion of the concertante works. Mikkelsen favours a generally broader approach
and the recording while fully acceptable does not seriously challenge either
BIS or Chandos on the technical front. Under the aegis of the Norwegian Cultural
Council the Bergen Philharmonic recorded various pieces including the four rhapsodies
conducted by Karsten Andersen. These can now be viewed as stop-gaps very much
superseded by these newer discs. Elsewhere, the symphonies are often - indeed
logically - paired including versions from Jansons
in Oslo on EMI, Engeset in Bournemouth on Naxos and Rasilainen
with the Norwegian Radio Symphony on Warner/Apex. Chandos are even in competition
with themselves with Dausgaard
and the Danish National RSO. I have heard none of those paired symphony
versions for comparison. Certainly this is music admirers of traditional romantic
symphonies and symphonic repertoire ought to know. That being the case, this
hugely enjoyable disc of undemandingly appealing music presented in typically
superb Chandos sound is an excellent place to start.
A hugely enjoyable disc of undemandingly appealing music presented in typically
superb Chandos sound.