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Hardanger Fiddle in Art Music
Johan HALVORSEN (1864–1935)
Fossegrimen, Op. 27 (1904-5) [16:08]
1. Fossegrimen - Allegro moderato [5:55]
2. Nissene på låven, gangar [2:38]
3. Bruremarsj - Allegretto marciale [5:00]
4. Fanitullen - Allegro con fuoco [2:35]
(1, 3, 4 piano arr. by Ingfrid Breie Nyhus)
Sven NYHUS (b. 1932)
Three Works for Hardanger Fiddle Solo (1979–1982) [15:05]
5. Rondo [4:44]
6. Fantasi No. 1 [4:49]
7. Fantasi No. 2 [5:32]
Johan KVANDAL (1919–1999)
Quintet for Hardanger Fiddle and String Quartet, Op. 50 (1978) [12:28]
8. Andante [8:30]
9. Allegro [3:58]
Åshild Breie Nyhus (hardanger fiddle), Ingfrid Breie Nyhus (piano), Per Kristian Skalstad (violin), Per Saemund Bjørkum (violin), Anders Rensvik (viola), Audun Sandvik (cello)
rec. 23–27 May 2013, Jar Church, Norway
SIMAX PSC1333 [43:41]

Hardanger is a fylke (region) in central Norway around the Hardanger fjord. It is a mountainous area with wide glaciers, rather sparsely populated. The Hardanger fiddle is a typical folk-music instrument for the region. It has been used since at least the middle of the 17th century and nowadays it is very similar to a violin but with eight or nine strings. Four of these are strung and played like a violin while the rest are under-strings, sympathetic strings which resonate under the influence of the four upper strings. The instruments are usually highly decorated. The bridge is flatter than a normal violin bridge and allows the player to play on two and sometimes even three at the same time. The tuning varies from place to place.

The hardanger fiddle is primarily a folk-music instrument, used for dance music and bridal processions, and is regarded as one of the most important symbols for ‘Norwegian-ness’. It became central during the striving for national independence in the 19th century. The instrument and the dances (slåtter) were played at concerts and the pioneer was Myllarguten (The Miller’s Boy) who, helped by legendary virtuoso Ole Bull first played his repertoire in Christiania (today’s Oslo) in 1849. During the second half of the century several classical composers were inspired by the folk-music: Halfdan Kjerulf, Johan Svendsen, Edvard Grieg and Johan Halvorsen. The latter was also the first to compose and perform music specifically for Hardanger fiddle. For many years he was assigned to write incidental music for the National Theatre in Christiania. When they mounted a play partly based on the legend of Myllarguten, he saw it as apt to use the Hardanger fiddle as a solo instrument, as accompaniment to singing and also as solo instrument with the orchestra. This play was titled Fossegrimen (The Watersprite) and the suite from it is the opening work on this disc. The music was played at the premiere on 29 January 1905 with Halvorsen as the soloist on Hardanger fiddle. He continued to play at every performance until 1909, a total of 104 performances. The best known movement is Fanitullen (Devil’s Dance). According to legend Myllarguten learnt to play the fiddle from the Devil. This is truly riveting music. The piano part by Ingfrid Breie Nyhus is based on Halvorsen’s orchestral accompaniment, which would have been interesting to hear. Fascinating anyway to have this recording with the first work in musical history to use the Hardanger fiddle in a classical music content.

The father of Åshild and Ingfrid, Sven Nyhus, is a legend within Norwegian folk-music as fiddler and professor of folk-music but also a professional viola player in the leading Oslo orchestras. He has also been an indefatigable advocate for the use of the Hardanger fiddle in the context of art music. His Three works for Hardanger fiddle solo were composed between 1979 and 1982 and it is easy to realise that this music was written by someone who knew the instrument very well. The rondo is influenced by the Viennese classicism while the two fantasies are more related to Norwegian folk-music; the second of them is a halling, a typical Norwegian dance.

Contemporaneous with these pieces is Johan Kvandal’s quintet for Hardanger fiddle and string quartet. The two movements are titled Lyarslått, which is a dance to be listened to, and Dans. There are motifs and elements from folk-music. The second movement has traces of the halling dance. Harmonically, however, this is far removed from traditional folk-music. The short allegro is the movement that is easiest to connect with the folk-music tradition.

The sound of the Hardanger fiddle is very special and it may take some time to get used to. With the sympathetic strings we get a meatier sound that contrasts a lot with the four traditional classical instruments in the string quartet. This contrast also creates thrilling conversations, like people who speak related languages but which are so different that you don’t understand all the words immediately.

This is a fascinating disc that should attract listeners from both the classical and the folk-music camps. That said, allowance must be made for the very short playing time. Nevertheless the music is expertly performed and impeccably recorded. Bjørn Aksdal’s extensive liner-notes, from which I have derived a lot of valuable information, give deep insight in the background to this cross-over music.

Göran Forsling