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Ole BULL (1810-1880)
Stages of Life
Largo posato e Rond˛ capriccioso (1841) [12:59]
Norges fjelde [16:49]
Fantasy on “Lilly Dale” (1872) [11:39]
Vilspel I Lio [13:10]
Siste romanse [2:48]
Annar Folles° (violin)
Wolfgang Plagge (piano)
Norwegian Radio Orchestra/Eun Sun Kim
rec. 2018, Jar Church, Norway
Reviewed in SACD stereo
2L RECORDS 2L-159-SABD SACD/BD-A [57:26]

This recording is a sequel to one that violinist Annar Folles° and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra released in 2010 (review), which included Ole Bull’s Violin Concerto. This more recent release is interesting in that it includes compositions that Ole Bull wrote only for himself to play, and which have therefore not been heard since his death.

Ole Bull is often referred to as “the Nordic Paganini”, and he was able to captivate audiences with his incredible violin technique and charisma. Highly respected by Edvard Grieg and others, in Norway he is still revered for his significant role in the movement for a national identity in the fields of music and the dramatic arts, bringing the Hardanger fiddle into concert-hall respectability and promoting the work of the likes of Henrik Ibsen, but he is still relatively unknown internationally as a composer today.

The minor-key opening of Largo posato e Rond˛ capriccioso is likened to the start of Mozart’s overture to Don Giovanni in the booklet notes for this release, this atmosphere growing into a soulfully lyrical passage for the violin. The joyful rondo that follows is a deliberate contrast, with plenty of violin fireworks from the start, some stratospherically high notes that will wake up the cat, and a delightful little syncopated march section just before the run-up to a rousing final cadence. This is one of a number of incomplete scores that have been restored for this recording, in this case with cadenzas and other violin passages filled in by the brilliant Annar Folles°.

Norges Fjelde or ‘Norway’s Mountains’ has been assembled and completed by Wolfgang Plagge, using folksong and some of Bull’s short pieces to make a convincing sounding reconstruction of Bull’s intentions, complete with some echo effects and a refreshingly translucent orchestration. Fantasy on “Lilly Dale” is from the later stage in Bull’s life in which, after a second marriage to Sara Thorp, he found himself in Madison, Wisconsin, at the home of Sara’s parents. The piece forms variations around its ballad theme, reflecting the song’s tragic narrative in music that has more to do with expressive passions than violin sparks, though there are one or two moments of extrovert display.

Vilspel I Lio is, like the Fjelde a representation of Norway’s countryside. ‘Vilspel’ is a folk-musician’s term that indicates performance without a score, and it is possible that Bull would have followed this tradition in the open spaces of the first part of the work. There is a salon-character to what follows, Bull happy to go into uplifting popular style with some humorous ‘wrong-note’ moments from the orchestra. The booklet notes remind us that Bull was self-taught as a composer, and expand on critical remarks made by Halfdan Kjerulf who took issue with “dissonant and wild passages” in the piece, none of which should ruffle our feathers today. The programme ends with Siste romanse or “Last Romance” to piano accompaniment; a very nice and deceptively simple-sounding arrangement of a melody from the late 1870s.

Recorded with Morton Lindberg’s usual attention to detail and surround-sound ambience, this is a fine album with some intriguing and lovely music. Alas I do not have a surround system set up at home, but the SACD stereo sound is excellent. The acoustic of Jar Church is not as resonant as some recordings from this label, but this suits the detail in the music very well. Annar Folles°’s playing is remarkable and faultlessly musical, and both Wolfgang Plagge and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra give warmly affectionate performances.

Dominy Clements

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