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Klaus EGGE (1906-1979)
Violin Sonata, op.3 [23:38]
Duo Concertante, for violin and viola, op.23 [16:58]
Trio, for piano, violin and cello, op.14 (1940) [30:10]
Einar Henning Sembye (piano)
Tor Johan Bøen (violin)
Bénédicte Royer (viola)
Johannes Martens (cello)
rec. Sofienberg Church, Oslo, 4-7 October 2011 and 17-19 February 2012.
SIMAX CLASSICS PSC1193 [70:52] 

Ketil HVOSLEF (b.1939)

Trio, for piano, violin and cello (2010) [21:25]
Fartein VALEN (1887-1952)
Trio, for piano, violin and cello, op.5 (1927) [18:16]
Klaus EGGE (1906-1979)
Trio, for piano, violin and cello, op.14 (1940) [28:12]
Valen Trio (Riccardo Odriozola (violin), John Ehde (cello), Einar Røttingen (piano))
rec. Sofienberg Church, Oslo, 20-23 June 2011.
LAWO CLASSICS LWC1037 [67:55]

These two recent releases are the kind that are all too easy to overlook: low-key Scandinavian labels presenting relatively obscure Norwegian composers, performed by musicians that do not have the luxury of big marketing budgets backing them. Yet everyone with an interest in chamber music should have both discs in their collection.
 
The CDs are linked by more than Klaus Egge's fabulous Piano Trio. First, Fartein Valen: arguably the only name most casual browsers will recognise - he was Egge's teacher. He also gives his name to the trio of musicians on the LAWO CD. Second, the friendly acoustic of the Sofienberg Church in Oslo provides both labels with a high-quality venue. Third, and most importantly, both discs luxuriate in first-rate music and elegant, committed interpretations.
 
Teacher and pupil Valen and Egge have appeared together on disc before: Egge's one String Quartet (op.5) and Valen's Second (op.13) were half of the Oslo Quartet's programme on a polystylistic anthology of 20th century works from Norway on Naxos back in 2000 (8.554384). Valen, incidentally, is a highly significant composer yet to receive proper attention from Naxos. His Trio op.5 flirts with atonality but remains melodically flowing. Meanwhile, some of Ketil Hvoslef's darkly atmospheric music can be found on BIS. Hvoslef has taken his mother's maiden name - he is in fact son of that fine Norwegian symphonist Harald Sæverud. Hvoslef has made more of an impact with his numerous concertos as well as a substantial body of chamber works, of which the Trio - commissioned by the Valens - is one of his latest and most memorable.
 
Nonetheless, it is Klaus Egge who is the focal point of both recordings, courtesy above all of his expansive Piano Trio. Early in his career Egge laboured long and hard on this terrifically lyrical-dramatic work, as an extract from one of his letters in the LAWO booklet shows. It is ironic that it took three-quarters of a century for a recording to be made, only for another to follow within a few weeks. Simax claim their whole disc as world premiere recordings, but the LAWO was made three months earlier and released in February, two months before Simax, thus pipping them at the post as far as the Piano Trio is concerned. Simax do at least have the honour of an Egge disc already in their catalogue - 'Piano Works', performed by Torleif Torgersen (PSC1131) - albeit it has been there for fourteen years.
 
The Simax recording also comes with a substantial essay (in the order of 3,000 words) in Norwegian and English, entitled 'Klaus Egge - A Central Figure of Nordic Culture and Music Life in the Twentieth Century'. Its author, August Albertsen, writes in a slightly old-fashioned way, but is eminently readable - unlike the chosen font, which is very small - and a mine of information and detail about the composer's life and music. One thing the essay does not explain is why Egge is pictured holding lion cubs on the front cover. Albertsen is, above all, rightly enthusiastic about Egge's sophisticated music, the critical and public neglect of which is both mystifying and wrong.
 
The early Violin Sonata is generally late-Romantic in spirit, packed with dissonant harmonies but always in a way that is easy on the ear, all the while underpinned by Egge's immaculate sense of rhythm and melody. The Duo Concertante is considerably more tonally nebulous, but its delightful counterpoint and broadly neo-Classical feel render it still very approachable. Reviewers' dislike of the work at the time, discussed in detail in the notes, says more or less about critical culture than about Egge's musical imagination.
 
The Simax recordings were made on two different dates and the master volume has not been kept at the same level. The Duo Concertante is thus considerably quieter than the Violin Sonata and Piano Trio, but all three works are very well captured by the engineers. Too well, in one instance: at the end of the Violin Sonata one of the musicians can be heard to take three or four breaths before the sound is cut off. The four soloists are not obviously connected - certainly no mention is made of any link in their biographical notes in the booklet. All the more creditable then are their performances in the three chamber combinations, especially violinist Tor Johan Bøen, whose virtuosic roles in each work require a razor-sharp sense of timing and empathy.
 
For LAWO the Valen Trio are just as impressive, especially their Swedish cellist, John Ehde. His solo recording on CDKlassisk in 2011 was one of the most memorable discs of that year - see review. Their audio is pretty much immaculate, whilst the Norwegian-English booklet notes are informative - albeit on a smaller scale than Simax's. For budgets stretching only to one disc, the LAWO just shades it, but in reality, both definitely need to be heard.
 
Byzantion
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