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Eyvind ALNÆS (1872-1932) Four piano pieces, Op.4 (1895) [8.31] Variations on an original theme, Op.5 (1895) [12.54] Three piano pieces, Op.9 (1900) [15.35] Romance in E (1906) [3.25] Three morceaux, Op.32 (1921) [10.43] Ten piano pieces on Norwegian folksongs, Op.39 (1923) [24.13] Stemning (1923) [2.39]
Erling R Eriksen (piano)
rec. Lille Concert Hall, Bjergsted, Stavanger, 18-19 December 2007 and 15 March 2008 TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0067 [75.27]
This disc of piano music by Eyvind Alnæs was released three years ago – it was reviewed by Peter Burwasser in Fanfare in September 2011. As the only disc in the catalogues giving a conspectus of Alnæs’s piano music it would be recommendable in its own right, but the excellent performances by Erling Eriksen and the superbly realistic recording give it value over and above that’ not that the music itself, with some exceptions, is always terribly original.
Alnæs studied in Leipzig with Carl Reinecke, who had previously taught Grieg, Svendsen and Sinding. Under the circumstances it is not altogether surprising that his earlier piano music here – the Four piano pieces, Variations on an original theme and Three piano pieces – tends to echo the sound of his older contemporaries. This issue gives us a very informative booklet note by Audun Jonassen. This is excellently translated by Martin Anderson. He commendably furnishes us with music examples to demonstrate the sometimes complex writing – and prodigious technique – that Alnæs employed in the Variations. There are also suggestions of other composers here: the Humoreske that closes the set of Four piano pieces has distinct pre-echoes of Rachmaninov’s Prelude Op 23/5, for example – but that was not written (or at any rate published) until some eight years later.
The Ten piano pieces on Norwegian folksongs had their origins in three volumes of Norwegian melodies that Alnæs produced during the years 1910-1922. The publisher, William Hansen, commissioned these volumes as successors to Grieg’s earlier collection. In his expansion of these movements Alnæs drew not only on his own arrangements but also those of Grieg himself, leaving the older composer’s harmonisations unchanged. Under the circumstances it is not surprising that the influence of Grieg is very dominant throughout. That said, Alnæs’s treatment of the melodies is sometimes more chromatic, with fuller textures, as Jonassen rightly observes. One is disappointed to find that Alnæs is not more adventurous with his material; Norwegian folksong had to wait for Geirr Tveitt’s massive collection of Hardanger folksongs to find a composer prepared to be more authentic and indeed experimental with these tunes. The tragedy which deprived us of much of Tveitt’s music – most of his manuscripts were destroyed in a fire – fortunately spared many of his folksong arrangements for piano.
However the Three morceaux published in 1921 are something different altogether. Jonassen surmises that Alnæs had been listening to Debussy. Although the music is only intermittently impressionist in feel, the use of whole-tone scales frees up the tonality to a considerable degree. The second movement, Jeux d’enfants, is particularly odd: Jonassen notes that “by accident or design” Alnæs quotes from Schumann’s Piano Concerto, but this quotation is preceded by another clear echo, this time from Mahler’s First Symphony. This leads one to suspect that the use of pastiche is quite deliberate and probably satirical, like Debussy’s quotation from Tristan in his Golliwog’s cakewalk. The little piece Stemning (Mood), published in 1925, shows the impressionist influences even more prominently; indeed, one might almost mistake this for a miniature by Debussy or Ravel. After this the return to Alnæs’s earlier and more classical style in the Three piano pieces comes as quite a shock.
As I have noted above, the playing by Erling Eriksen is committed and responsive throughout. We are I suppose unlikely to get another disc of Alnæs piano music any time soon, but this CD will bear up well to any future competition. Eriksen manages even the most bravura passages – Alnæs was clearly no mean shakes as a pianist – with aplomb. Those who relish the piano music of Grieg and Sinding will be delighted to make the acquaintance of this music. Alnæs may have been a musical conservative, but even if he lacks the sheer originality of Tveitt he remains a force to be reckoned with. His music is rightly treasured in Norway, and deserves wider circulation.