Ole OLSEN (1850-1927)
Asgaardsreien - symphonic tone-picture op.10 (1878) [11:16]
Symphony in G op.5 (1878) [39:43]
Suite for string orchestra, Op.60 (1890) [17:15]
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Terje Mikkelsen
rec. Reforma Baznika Riga, Latvia, 28-29 July 2009
STERLING CDS1086-2 SACD [68:31]

This all-Olsen disc bumps up against a BIS hybrid SACD (review). Although the Sterling is also a hybrid SACD, it's not entirely a case of like-for-like. Both discs present Olsen's Symphony and Asgaardsreien. The difference is that Sterling's coupling is the latish Suite for string orchestra while the Bis has Olsen's Trombone Concerto.

Asgaardsreien (The Ride of Asgaard) is like an apocalyptic Rouet d'Omphale or a ramblingly varied Ride of the Valkyries. The wild-eyed facade slips once or twice, making room for the sort of cool pastoral associated with Grieg's Holberg. Olsen's sole Symphony has a first movement in the form of an affably bustling Allegro maestoso; think in terms of Beethoven's Pastoral. An amiably fly-away Allegro makes way for a sentimental Andante with a melody that moves between anthem and what sounds at first like middle-eastern exotic of the sort embraced in Godard's symphonies. Unusually the finale is another Andante, here marked 'quasi adagio', but with Allegro episodes and a final bacchanal. This is a good-natured symphony which would keep suitable company alongside the symphonies of Mhul. Bizet and early Saint-Sans. The Suite for string orchestra owes its substance to the composer's 1890 incidental music for Johan Nordahl Brun Rolfsen's comedy Svein Urd. There are seven movements which include a pensive moonlit Song, a delicate Sibelian Northern Lights and Ice Field, Spring and Dream (both Grieg-like), a skittering and vigorous Among the Gypsies, a Gynt-inflected country-dance in Dwarves and Elves and a final smiling Sunset. In the fifty opus numbers and twelve years that separate the Suite from the other two works Olsen clearly gained plangent depth and individuality.

Mikkelsen and his Latvian orchestra seem confident and well up the tasks sets by Olsen. The programme is recorded in a warm space, delivering an open sound that caresses the ear. As for the fulsome liner-notes they are by Audun Jonassen. They are given in English and Swedish. It's a shame to have to choose but two things swing in favour of the Sterling: the capacious and warm acoustic and the often striking Suite.

Rob Barnett

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