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Leipzig! Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Lyric Suite, Op. 54 (1904; arr. Larsen) [15:10] Johan SVENDSEN (1840-1911)
Norwegian Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 17 (1876; arr. Larsen) [9:41] Emil HARTMANN (1836-1898)
Serenade, Op. 43 (1887) [19:30] Carl REINECKE (1824-1910)
Octet in B flat, Op. 216 (1891-2) [24:58]
rec. Jar Church, Bærum, Norway, August 2012 LAWO CLASSICS LWC1058 [69:18]
This is a delightful wind program, though the pertinence of its title - and of its excitable punctuation - eluded me. According to Dr. Katrin Schmidinger's note in the booklet, the conservatory in Leipzig was a major center for musical training in Europe. Carl Reinecke taught there; the Norwegians Grieg and Svendsen both studied there with him; the Danish composer Emil Hartmann also spent "a brief period of study" in Leipzig, though perhaps not with Reinecke himself.
As the saying goes, they had me at "hello." From the clarinet's smooth, expressive opening phrase in Grieg's Lyric Suite, I was captivated by the uniformly suave, polished playing of the Oslo Kammerakademi. The midrange horns and chalumeau clarinets are a stronger presence than usual, making for a fuller sound than, say, the trim sonorities of the old Netherlands Wind Ensemble. It's a tribute to the Kammerakademi's musicianship and ensemble sensitivity that the balances are impeccable throughout; the players' handling of such tricky matters as the syncopations in Reinecke's Scherzo is assured.
The Grieg and Svendsen pieces - the former originally for piano, the latter for full orchestra - have been arranged by the ensemble's double-bassist, Trond Olaf Larsen. (The presence of a string bass here isn't the anomaly you might think - Dvořák included the instrument in his Serenade for Winds.) He doesn't always make the obvious choices in the Grieg: in Shepherd Boy, as noted, he initially assigns the theme to the clarinet and then to a crisp, clear flute, deferring the conventionally "pastoral" oboe of Anton Seidl's standard orchestration. Svendsen's Norwegian Rhapsody opens mysteriously, moving into a perky, folksy Allegro, then growing into a velvety warmth. It's pleasant enough, though the repetitions and variations of its two principal themes induce some monotony.
Note that the Hartmann in question is not the twentieth century's Karl Amadeus, but the nineteenth-century Dane, Emil Hartmann: his Serenade is attractive in a mid-Romantic way. The introductory phrases include only the lower instruments - no flute or oboe - yet they have an airy purity; the movement proper goes with a graceful 6/8 lift without sacrificing tonal weight. The liquid Scherzo recalls Mendelssohn's minor-key scherzos; horns and clarinets dominate the Intermezzo that follows. After a pensive start, the patterns of the Finale's main theme suggest folk dance, and the answering phrases move deftly - even the bassoon and horn avoid heaviness. A brief chorale-like passage near the finish resolves in a cheerful coda, decorated by the flute.
The scoring of Reinecke's Octet, which noticeably exploits the midrange instruments, suits this ensemble particularly well: the soft-edged attack on the first chord immediately produces a rich, velvety texture, with the horn adding a contrasting raw edge as it ascends. The players' approach to the first movement is more motile than that of the estimable Boston Symphony Orchestra members (review). The exposition, in an agitated minor, seems to flow more swiftly on its repeat; the development adds a layer of mystery, and the home stretch is lively. The syncopated Scherzo vivace is set off by a more relaxed Trio. The Adagio ma non troppo, chorale-ish at the start, grows expansive and expressive, with a satisfying sense of arrival when the theme returns. The finale's opening flute flourish recalls Schumann's Spring Symphony, not inaptly for this graceful, poised rendition; the stretto coda, like that of the first movement, is unbuttoned and exuberant.
The sound reproduction is gorgeous. I can recommend this warmly, the occasional lulls in the Rhapsody notwithstanding.
Stephen Francis Vasta Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.