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Leif SOLBERG (b. 1914)
Fantasy and Fugue on the folk-tune Se solens skjønne lys og prakt, for organ (1936) [13:27]
Good Friday Meditation, for baritone, mezzo, choir and organ (1948) [22:58]
Norse March (1941) [5:07]
Pastorale in D major (1930, orch. 1955) [7:21] Ver sacrum (1947, transcr. 2003) [3:39]
Symphony (1950/1) [27:32]
Tim Collins (organ)
Anna Sundström Otervik (mezzo)
Magnus Ingemund Kjelstad (baritone)
Solberg Centenary Singers/Marit Tøndel Bodsberg
Liepaja Symphony Orchestra/Paul Mann
rec. 2014, Liepāja Latvian Society House, Liepāja, Latvia; Lillehammer Church, Norway
All first recordings except Fantasy & fugue and Ver sacrum
Reviewed as 16-bit lossless download from eClassical.com
Texts in Norwegian and English translation provided TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0260 [82:07]
Martin Anderson begins the booklet notes by excusing anyone who doesn’t recognise the name Leif Solberg, as apparently the composer himself was not known by anyone when he attended a Norwegian Composer’s Union meeting in the 1990s. This recording celebrated the 100th birthday of the composer in November 2014, along with a concert which Solberg and his wife attended.
Solberg was born in a small village south of the town of Lillehammer (location of the 1994 Winter Olympics), where he would spend his working life. He studied the organ with Arild Sandvold, one of Norway’s most prominent church musicians, and the majority of his early compositions were for this instrument. One was performed by Sandvold in a broadcast recital, who hailed Solberg’s talent in a newspaper interview. Solberg took up the post of organist at the church in Lillehammer in 1938, and would spend more than forty years there. The modernist developments in music passed him by, and his presence in the Norwegian musical community was almost forgotten, as has already been illustrated. In 1996, a CD of his organ music was made, and this brought him to the attention of Toccata Classics founder, Martin Anderson, and in turn brings us to this recording.
I’m not an aficionado of organ music, so I will limit my comments on the Fantasy and Fugue to an observation that it is a relatively restrained work, not given to massive outbursts. All stops have not been pulled out is an appropriate summary.
The Good Friday Meditation was written for a competition run by the Norwegian public broadcaster – it came second – and one of only a few choral works written by Solberg, surprising given his time spent as a church musician. The texts were written by a poet friend, Sigurd Nesse, who also reached the age of 100, and are in a variant of the Norwegian language known as Nynorsk (or New Norwegian), created in the nineteenth century and based on rural dialects. It has a uniformity in both tempo – slow – and dynamics – generally quiet – which some may find dull, but I found it very soothing. The choir, created for this recording and comprising mostly students, does most of the work; the soloists each contribute to only one of the seven sections.
The Norse March and Pastorale are precisely as you would imagine them to be from their titles. The March is as much jolly as martial, and would have been anything but easy to march to. The Pastorale very much promotes the sense of a woodland idyll. There are some Beethoven Sixth moments, and the work would fit very well on the playlist of the UK’s Classic FM (and I mean that as praise). Ver sacrum is a transcription for strings of a choral motet, and inhabits a similar soundworld to the Tallis Fantasia – it too should attract the attention of the Classic FM programmer.
The Symphony is a wonderful find. The impulse for its composition was the death of Solberg’s younger brother, ironically at the age of 29. It begins in quiet contemplation before opening out into Sibelian brass and strings. There is somewhat of a loss of inspiration and momentum in the middle of the first movement, but the final pages bring a bustling energetic close. The Andante is the emotional heart of the work: a solo clarinet mourns, before an insistent muffled timpani and harp arpeggios takes us into a noble string melody. It is not all quiet introspection; the timpani and brass drive a number of fortissimo climaxes. It is very moving and breathtakingly good. The third (and final) movement begins in a manner that brings to mind Grieg’s The hall of the mountain king, in its pulse and relentless rhythms. The main theme from the first movement is reintroduced in a rousing chorale-like climax.
There can’t be too many CDs with a run time of over 82 minutes. I can imagine there would have been some nerves among the production crew when they began tallying up the timings, wondering whether it would fit on one disc. The Toccata Classics blog features articles about the centenary concert by organist Tim Collins and the recording sessions by conductor Paul Mann. They do not duplicate the very comprehensive and informative booklet supplied. All the performers do a sterling job with music that must have been new to them.
I enjoyed each work on this disc, but the slow movement from the Symphony really stands out.