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Norge, Mitt Norge (Norway, my Norway)
Johan SELMER (1844-1910)
Hilsen Til Nidaros (Greeting to Nidaros) (1883) [11:15]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Sørgemarsj Over Rikard Nordraak (Funeral March for Richard Nordraak) (1867) [6:58]
Landkjenning (Landfall) (original version, 1872) [5:17]
Kantate Ved Afsløringen Af Christies Monument I Bergen Den 17de Mai (Cantata for the Unveiling of Christie’s Monument) (1868) [7:42]
Johan SVENDSEN (1840-1911)
Kroningsmarsj (Coronation March) (1873) [7:06]
Kantate Ved Afsløringen Af Henrik Wergelands Statue Den 17de Mai 1881 (Cantata for the Unveiling of Henrik Wergeland’s Statue) (1881) [11:45]
Sangernes Morgenhilsen (The Singers' Morning Greeting) (1892) [4:30]
Alfred EVENSEN (1883-1942)
Arnes Sang (Arne’s Song) (1935) [8:09]
Fredrik Wilhelm GOMNÆS (1868-1925)
Kantate Ved Militære Samfunds 100 Års Jubilæum (Cantata for the Centenary Celebration of the Oslo Military Society) (1925) [9:00]
Christiania Mannskor
Royal Norwegian Air Force Band/Leif Arne Pedersen
rec. 2015, Lademoen Church, Trondheim
Reviewed as a stereo DXD download from NativeDSD (also available in DSD64, 128 & 256)
Pdf booklet in Norwegian and English; sung texts in Norwegian only
LAWO CLASSICS LWC1121 [71:45]

The last Lawo release I reviewed was a rather splendid recital, featuring the recently restored Steinmeyer organ of Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim. I was surprised to read several disparaging comments online about the sound on that CD, none of which bear any resemblance to what I heard on the DSD128 download. In 2014, when I listened to the BD-A and SACD of 2L’s La voie triomphale, with The Staff Band of the Norwegian Armed Forces, I expressed a preference for the warmer sound of the latter; now, especially with brass or percussion, I choose DXD where possible.

The Royal Norwegian Air Force Band, formed in 2006, actually started life in 1818, as the Band of the Trondheim Brigade. Norge Mitt Norge is their second album for Lawo; the first, Battle of Stalingrad, received a muted welcome from Nick Barnard, who suggested the album would appeal to ‘those interested in the genre, rather than the music performed’. Rob Barnett was much more enthusiastic about the CD version of Norge Mitt Norge; indeed, he even hoped for a follow-up. As for the Christiania Mannskor, they were established in 2009, with the express aim of continuing a proud musical tradition.

As the title of this collection implies, this is home-grown repertoire. The combination of band and choir is new to me, but, as Mikal Engen points out in his liner-notes, it was commonplace in Norway in the late 19th and early 20th century. Not surprisingly, much of this music was written to be performed outdoors. That’s certainly true of Johan Selmer’s Hilsen Til Nidaros (Greeting to Nidaros), premiered by the Band of the Trondheim Brigade and four choirs in the courtyard of the Archbishop’s official residence. And what a stirring opener it is, with some thrilling fanfares; at first I thought the choir a little distant, but then that’s probably how they would sound in the open air. The tenor solo, touchingly sung, is well caught, though.

No collection of Norwegian music would be complete without at least one piece by Edvard Grieg. The solemn Sørgemarsj Over Rikard Nordraak, a funeral march for the composer of Norway’s national anthem, reminds me of Berlioz’s Grande Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale at times. That said, this performance has a lightness of tread that ensures the music stays clear of drear. As for Landkjenning (Landfall), which Grieg wrote to help raise funds for the reconstruction of Nidaros Cathedral, it’s sung and played with all the ‘sturdy fervour’ that Rob mentioned in his review. This is a fine choir, secure and well blended; the accompaniment, for organ, three trombones and tuba, is plain but very affecting.

After those lovely, warming cadences comes Grieg’s more robust Kantate Ved Afsløringen Af Christies Monument I Bergen Den 17de Mai, intended for the unveiling of the eponymous politician’s bust in Bergen’s main square, Torgallmenningen. There’s pomp and pageantry here, and conductor Leif Arne Pedersen keeps everything tidy and tasteful. Discretion certainly isn’t a given in such dutiful displays; then again, musical values are very much to the fore in this release. More important, the recording doesn’t aspire to brash – and ultimately fatiguing – audio overload; kudos to producer Vegard Landaas and his team for that.

Next up is Johan Svendsen’s Kroningsmarsj (Coronation March), written for the coronation of King Oscar II and Queen Josephine in 1873. It’s a powerful, rather Wagnerian piece, very much in the tradition of royal processions past and present. Not Walton, perhaps, but at least it doesn’t fade from memory when the final notes do. The Henrik Wergeland cantata – yet another statue, this time in Oslo’s Eidsvoll Square – also has more flair than one might expect from such public puffery; in fact, there’s an almost operatic quality to Svendsen’s writing, the splendid soloist and choir now solemn, now intensely lyrical.

Svendsen became music director of the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen – and of its orchestra – in 1883. Naturally, he provided a cantata, Sangernes Morgenhilsen (The Singers' Morning Greeting), for the golden wedding anniversary of King Christian IX and Queen Louise in 1892. It’s pretty standard stuff, certainly not the composer at his best. The penultimate work here, Arnes Sang (Arne’s Song), is by the composer, band leader and staunch supporter of male-voice choirs, Albert Evensen. Written for the National Convention of Male Choirs in 1935, it has some deft rhythms and imaginative flourishes; that said, I found it a little dry.

No such qualms about Fredrik Wilhelm Gomnæs’s Kantate ved Militære Samfunds 100 års jubilæum (Cantata for the Centenary Celebration of the Oslo Military Society). One might expect a spectacular sign-off, but in keeping with the rest of this collection the playing is utterly dependable, and the singing – especially that of the soloists – is beyond reproach. As for the engineering, it’s good, although I’d have preferred a little more air and immediacy at times.

Having now heard a couple of Lawo releases – in both DSD and DXD – I sense a very distinct ‘house sound’, and, as those Nidaros remarks suggest, it won’t please everyone. Certainly, those who like a bit more brass to their bands will find 2L and other labels more to their liking. Any other caveats? Translations of the sung texts would have been useful, although I do accept the words here may not be of primary importance here. Also, the booklet design is a bit fussy, but the upside is that Mikal Engen’s exhaustive notes have a lot of the fascinating ‘back story’ behind these pieces.

There are good things here, just not enough of them; splendid singing, though.

Dan Morgan

Previous review: Rob Barnett


 

 




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