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Eyvind ALNAES (1872-1932)
Symphony in C minor Op 7 (1897) [37.41]
Piano Concerto in D major (1915) Op 27 [31.25]
Håvard Gimse, piano
Oslo Philharmonic/Elvind Aadland
rec. 2016, location not provided
LAWO CLASSICS LWC1112 [70.11]

You’ll know right from the start of the Piano Concerto if this composer is going to appeal. He was a new name to me but the Lisztian bombast came as a surprise, I suppose because I was expecting something…well… more Scandinavian, whatever that might imply. Then, when the big tune started on the strings, Rachmaninov came to mind. So this blossoms into an opulent first movement at thirteen minutes and consistently virtuosic for the soloist, just as a romantic concerto should be.

Who though was Eyvind Alnaes? He came from western Norway originally but grew up on the other side nearer to Sweden. His talent was noted early and Grieg heard an early piano work of his “and gave him his approbation”, to quote the useful booklet notes by Halvor Hosar. Later Alnaes studied in Leipzig with Reinecke who was a profoundly conservative musician modelling himself on Brahms and even Beethoven. The Symphony is a deeply romantic work in four movements and is a competent work with the second, a heat-felt Adagio being especially convincing. The Scherzo, which follows, is also attractively scored and contains some clever and memorable ideas. It opens with a light footed, Mendlessonian Allegro with the description ‘pathetico’ added to it. Its more legato second subject is well contrasted and on the whole the symphony, although in effect a student work is cohesive and well structured and neatly and imaginatively orchestrated. The finale begins as if chipped off a lost Brahms symphony and has a seriousness of purpose with strong sequential writing. It makes a convincing climax to a promising work.

Moving on eighteen years, in 1915 the Piano Concerto was premiered. Rhythmically it is more interesting and the orchestration is clear and powerful despite the eight horns, four trumpets and two tubas; the language however has not developed. Yet Alnaes never overwhelms the soloist who often has more delicate ideas. Contrasting moods are often pitched side by side and the emotions thrown around as a consequence.

The middle movement of the concerto starts with a lugubrious theme in the low woodwind and is a little funereal but rises into a very moving climax. The Symphony’s slow movement never quite achieves the same solemnity but the harmonies are compelling and passionate and offer a view of distant lonely landscapes.

What is helpful is the close recording made by the LAWO engineers, which has the advantage of an easy and unaffected piano balance. Håvard Gimse achieves a winning naturalness in the piano theme in the second movement of the concerto but a greater sense of rubato would have been even more idiomatic. It seems to be rather a pity that the empty stillness at the end of the movement is expelled so strongly by the massiveness of the opening chords of the third movement, subtitled ‘Tempo di Valse’. Here the strings are given a Tchaikovskian counter-subject to the piano’s chords and the sense of disparity of material becomes more obvious. However as the movement moves towards it climax there is no doubting its ability to be very stirring and exciting at times and the waltz mood is all too easily forgotten only to be re-introduced moderately convincingly, towards the end.

It seems that the Concerto has been recorded on Hyperion by Piers Lane review but I have not heard it and the Symphony by the Latvian Symphony Orchestra on Stirling - again I’ve not encountered the CD so I can’t compare these new performances, and can find no fault in the current performances and recordings. If I was searching for an Alnaes disc to add to my library I can see no reason why this disc could not make a natural starting point.

Gary Higginson

 

 




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