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Johan SVENDSEN (1840-1911)
Orchestral Works - vol. 1
Karneval i Paris, op.9 (1872) [12:01]
Romeo und Julia, op.18 (1876) [10:01]
Fest-Polonaise, op.12 (1873) [10:41]
*Romanze, for violin & orchestra, op.26 (1881) [7:35]
Träume - Studie zu 'Tristan und Isolde' (Wagner) (1872) [3:44]
Zorahayda - Légende, op.11 (1874/1879) [11:31]
I Fjol Gjætt'e Gjeitinn - Norwegian Folk Melody (1874) [3:50]
Sæterjentens Søndag (1873) [2:41]
Norwegian Rhapsody no.1, op.17 (1876) [7:46]
Norwegian Rhapsody no.2, op.19 (1876) [9:15]
*Marianne Thorsen (violin)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Grieghallen, Bergen, August and September 2009 and August 2010. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10693 [80:00] 

Orchestral Works - vol. 2
Norwegian Rhapsody no.3, op.21 (1876) [8:43]
Norwegian Rhapsody no.4, op.22 (1877) [11:47]
Cello Concerto in D, op.7 (1870) [19:18]
Symphony No.2 in B flat, op.15 (1876) [31:56]
Truls Mørk (cello)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway, 23-25 August 2011; 27-31 August 2010 (Rhapsodies). DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10711 [72:09] 

Orchestral Works - vol. 3
Norsk Kunstnerkarneval, op.14 [6:44]
Violin Concerto in A, op.6 [28:14]
Two Icelandic Melodies, for strings [6:17]
Symphony no.1 in D, op.4 [33:28]
Marianne Thorsen (violin)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway, 20-22 August 2012. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10766 [74:10]

This Johan Svendsen trilogy from Chandos comes with its own mystery duo. Firstly, what happened to volume four - promised on the release of the first disc last year, but now, according to volume three's blurb, no longer planned? Second, and more significantly, what motivated Chandos to make these recordings? Svendsen was already well served discographically - at least on a par with his historical importance - and Neeme Järvi has already recorded much of his music for BIS with the very same orchestra! To cap it all, Chandos already have Svendsen's symphonies in their catalogue, in perfectly good accounts given a decade ago by Thomas Dausgaard with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra (review); not mention those by Jansons and Rasilainen

Critical reports on all the above have been good, so a desire to sweep average competition aside cannot have been the motivation. What then? Not, somewhat surprisingly, audio quality: despite Chandos's '24-bit/96 Khz' boast, there is nothing exceptional to be heard here. In fact, there is some audio compression in evidence, manifesting itself most blatantly in the muddiness of the string section, and with no improvement by volume 3. 

Whilst it would be churlish to criticise Chandos, a label that has done much sterling and pioneering work in renovating or unearthing previously neglected composers from Scandinavia and elsewhere, it is hard in this instance not to wish that the resources made available for these three discs had been deployed elsewhere. 

For those not wanting to commit to the full complement, volume 2 offers Svendsen at his most original and entertaining. The two Norwegian Rhapsodies see him at his most attractively nationalistic, whilst Truls Mørk is a persuasive advocate of the short, subtle but always deeply lyrical cello concerto. The Second Symphony is one of Svendsen's finest works, and one of the most original Norwegian symphonies of the 19th century - albeit without a huge amount of competition. Svendsen's First, on volume 3, is a lesser work by comparison, though still far from negligible. For lighter but colourful fare, volume 1 has most to offer, and by way of bonus includes Svendsen's best-known work, the lilting violin Romanze op.26, and, above all, the other two memorable Norwegian Rhapsodies.
 
In performance terms, the Bergen Philharmonic under Neeme Järvi are hard to beat, particularly in Scandinavian repertoire, as their 4-disc series for Chandos of Svendsen's younger contemporary Johan Halvorsen's music, recorded at more or less the same time as their Svendsen, testifies (review). Järvi's BIS recording of Svendsen's symphonies (CD-347) dates from the 1980s and the sound quality, despite BIS's reputation, is fairly shabby. Dausgaard's for Chandos (CHAN 9932) was made twenty years later and is an improvement, but no better than the Järvis under review. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's recording of both symphonies under Bjarte Engeset for Naxos (8.553898), released in 1998, gives the best value for money in terms of combined audio and performance fidelity. Overall, though - for variety of programme, generosity of running-time, and quality of interpretation - these Chandos discs are a reliable investment, especially for those without exalted audiophile tendencies.
 
The standard of the trilingual booklets is as high as usual, as is the amount of paper wasted by the extraordinary width of Chandos's margins. Notes do have a slight foreign accent, nowhere more so than in the translated title of Sæterjentens Søndag, 'The Girl's Sunday on the Mountain Pasture', which misleadingly implies that the girl in question spent Sunday on a mountain pasture - in the Norwegian, in fact, mountain pasture (or farm) is a characteristic of the girl, not her Sunday. The notes do, however, give a reasonably detailed account of each piece.
 
Byzantion
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk  

See also reviews of Volume 1 by Jonathan Woolf and Volume 2 by Nick Barnard.


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