An extensive Svendsen series (vol.
), excellently recorded as one has come to expect from Chandos,
is surely to be welcomed. The third volume contains two of his major
works; the First Symphony and the Violin Concerto.
The Concerto dates from 1870, the same year in which he wrote his compact
Cello Concerto. It was written in Paris but finished in Leipzig and
dedicated to Ferdinand David. The name of the dedicatee might suggest
an earlier stylistic provenance, given David’s role in the Leipzig
school, and not least his friendship with Mendelssohn. Indeed Svendsen’s
concerto is largely post-Schumannesque in orientation and rather more
diverting than history has credited. It’s been a source of puzzlement
to me for some years why more soloists, especially Scandinavian soloists,
don’t take up the work. So it’s good news that Marianne
Thorsen brings her sensitive, chamber-scaled (but not un-soloistic)
skill to bear on it. She’s especially good at its more introspective
moments, at some daring diminuendos and moments of heightened but chaste,
almost elfin expression in the opening movement. She reserves greatest
tonal weight for passages such as the intensely expressive passage around
5:50 in this movement and phrases with breadth and much increased vibrato
usage. The hymnal warmth of the slow movement and fine exchanges with
orchestral principals are alike well realised, with Neeme Järvi
ensuring secure chording, and well blended orchestral choirs. Neither
soloist nor conductor overlooks the explosive element embedded in the
. The elegant, terpsichorean finale goes very well too,
with textures well presented and a sense of movement always to the fore.
I’ve not heard Arve Tellefsen’s recording on NKF (CD 50010-2),
but I do know Kai Laursen’s old mono recording with Carl von Garaguly
conducting the South Jutland Symphony back in 1968 [Danacord
]. It’s a perfectly serviceable recording, though
obviously outstripped technically by the Chandos newcomer in all technical
ways. However, I do not swerve in my admiration for Laursen and Garaguly;
their opening is the more impassioned, and Laursen plays with greater
romantic declamation than Thorsen.
The third volume in this series offers smaller pieces that might have
escaped listeners. The Norwegian Artists’ Carnival
is nevertheless one of his most popular, charmingly and cleverly orchestrated
as ever. Svendsen utilises two tunes, contrasting the cold North with
the warm South. The result is seven minutes of delightful ingratiation.
I didn’t know the Two Icelandic Melodies
beautifully arranged and imbued with quietly spoken folkloric intensity.
Which leaves the First Symphony, composed in 1866 and thus the prentice
work in this disc. Critics have run hot and cold (usually the latter)
over the First Symphony, whereas they tend to be happier with the Second.
I’ve always rather liked the confidence with which Svendsen goes
so briskly to work - a real no-nonsense Molto allegro
underway. His ebullience is a tonic. There is also something proto-Elgarian
about the Andante
; maybe Schumann and a shared French orchestral
interest is the clue: a nexus of the Franco-German. Certainly you would
do well to deny glimmerings of the proto-Tchaikovskian balletic in the
scherzo - a very able, characterful affair. The only movement that fails
to convince is the finale and Svendsen is hardly the only composer to
fail the finale problem. He huffs and puffs but the elements don’t
really come together. Bluster, in the main. Still, I would say much
of the symphony is likeable and more than that, interesting.
There have been a number of recordings of the Symphony. Järvi himself
recorded it in Gothenburg, coupled with Symphony No.2 and the Two Swedish
Folk-Melodies for BIS [CD347]. Both symphonies can also be found on
Naxos [8.553898 with Bjarte Engeset and the Bournemouth Symphony], on
with Jansons and on Warner
Apex 0927 40621-2
[Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Ari Rasilainen]
and in a previous Chandos release [CHAN
] with the excellent Danish National Radio Symphony under Thomas
Dausgaard. Terje Mikkelsen has also recorded it with the Latvian National
Symphony on La Vergen 260741, though I’ve never come across it.
Clearly the intention of the Chandos series is to split the symphonies
and to offer mixed programming as exemplified by this latest release.
If that introduces more people to the Violin Concerto I’ll go
with that. The sonics of these Bergen performances are about as good
as Svendsen has yet received and the performances are fine. Just don’t
forget Laursen in the Concerto.
See also review by Byzantion