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Norge, Mitt Norge (Norway, my Norway)
Johan SELMER (1844-1910)
Hilsen Til Nidaros (1883) [11:15]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Sørgemarsj Over Richard Nordraak (1867) [6:58]
Landkjenning (1872) [5:17]
Kantate Ved Afsløringen Af Christies Monument I Bergen Den 17de Mai (1868) [7:42]
Johan SVENDSEN (1840-1911)
Kroningsmarsj (1873) [7:06]
Kantate Ved Afsløringen Af Henrik Wergelands Statue Den 17de Mai 1881 (1881) [11:45]
Sangernes Morgenhilsen (1892) [4:30]
Alfred EVENSEN (1883-1942)
Arnes Sang (1935) [8:09]
Fredrik Wilhelm GOMNÆS (1868-1925)
Kantate Ved Militære Samfunds 100 Års Jubilæum (1925) [9:00]
Christiania Mannskor
Royal Norwegian Air Force Band/Leif Arne Pedersen
rec. Lademoen Church, Trondheim, January 2015

Assiduous collectors, completists and music-lovers will know of the academic cantatas of Sibelius, Alfven and Nielsen (Dacapo 8.226079). These tend to be for massed voices with orchestra. The present volume from Norwegian label Lawo takes a different tack. The overarching new element is that these are works for male voice choir with military band. The names of three of the composers are unfamiliar. Grieg and Svendsen stand in line here as well-known names but with scores that are to all intents and purposes unknown. Two Grieg works whose titles are known in versions with full orchestra are Landkjenning and Sørgemarsj Over Richard Nordraak.

Selmer's Hilsen til Nidaros starts the disc in sternly Old Testament style - you can almost see the fulsome flowing beards. Selmer was born in Oslo but pursued his studies in Paris and Leipzig. This is a satisfying piece in an early Sibelian - Lisztian/Wagnerian - idiom. The brass are yeoman resolute and are heard in short phrases but with a commanding stutter. After a supplicatory tenor solo the rasping brass attend with some surprising and rhythmically decorative castanets; castanets were also used by Sibelius in his Scène de Ballet and Festivo.

The Nordraak Funeral March introduces Grieg the military band composer although people may well know the piece in its orchestral colours. This is a work strong on growling tragedy and a funereal tread. I should not have forgotten the quiet innocence of the counter-subject at 2:30. It's a very eloquent piece and well worth hearing. The march ends on a beautifully enigmatic down-beat.

Grieg's Landkjenning is hardly unknown - at least in its version with orchestra. The latter dates from 1881, some ten years after the original version we hear on this disc. This original is for male choir, organ, three trombones and tuba.

Grieg's Christie Monument Cantata is in two movements: before and after the ceremony. It opens with some grittily virtuosic fanfares ushering in the excellently catchy choral part. The singing combines a blazing, though sometimes quietly expressed, pride and nationalist confidence. There's very little on this disc that I would describe as bombastic. The choral writing is full of clever touches including some galloping tempi to vary and enhance the aural picture.

Svendsen's Kroningsmarsj lets us hear the band alone. This disc opens a closed door so far as Svendsen is concerned. If you already have his orchestral music then Lawo are offering you another perspective. The March has some appetising and grindingly tasty harmonic and dynamic touches among the general clash and glow.

Svendsen's sturdy Wergeland Cantata starts with Beethovenian darkness then moves into anthemic unison singing that is firm but in broodingly subdued colours - although there is a vocal solo in place following the standard pattern here. In the work's second section Svendsen lightens the skies and things become more outgoing. The orchestral part indulges in a bubblingly exciting touch of Weber-like influence.

Svendsen's Sangernes Morgenhilsen - "The singer's morning greeting" - was written as one of three works by Svendsen to celebrate the Norwegian Royal couple's golden wedding anniversary in 1892. This shows an adept weaving of unaccompanied singing with the coltish excitability of his instrumental writing.

Alfred Evensen was a leading light in Norway's military band and male voice choral worlds. He led various of his country's army bands from 1918 to 1942. Arne's sang was at first written for solo baritone, choir and orchestra in which form it was premiered in Bergen in 1934. Even in Lawo's version this is a smoothly textured piece. There's a slightly mournful vocal solo but listen out in the second half for some delightfully inventive writing for woodwind. Nationalist fervour stirs with muscular conviction at the close.

Gomnaes was also from the military band world. He wrote an orchestral Symphony in A minor, premiered in 1908. This nine-minute cantata for the Centenary Celebration of the Oslo Military Society has surprisingly little fiercely military swagger. In its place we get a sense of quietly confident patriotism mixed with fine singing by the choir, a soloist and an orchestra. They all respond hearteningly to Gomnaes' demands for glowing colours and a effervescent delight. The latter is usually contributed by the woodwind who, as a group and in solos, play a strong part in what we hear on this disc.

I liked the pastel-shaded idealised fjord design - simple but so effective and including a red-dot sun and a figure on a craggy cantilever gazing out to infinity - memorable choices. I had misgivings about the pastel colours on white for the texts but more seriously am still sorry that we were not given English translations of the sung texts. They are there, but only in Norwegian.

Given the unusual nature of this repertoire background notes can make all the difference and these we get from Mikal Engen. These are given in Norwegian and English.

These performances pick up ardently on the pomp of each occasion whether academic or memorial. The singing and playing feels splendidly - indeed fervently - engaged. Lawo's engineering team have proved, as usual, more than equal to the task.

Music that revels in steady and sturdy fervour alongside effervescence and crackling confidence.

It makes you wonder whether there is more to be heard. Volume 2?

Rob Barnett



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