Geir TVEITT (1908-1981)
Aeolian Harp (1945) [16:06]
Christian SINDING (1856-1941)
Sonata (1909) [24:48]
Alf HARUM (1882-1972)
Eventyrland (1920) [20:39]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Ballade Op. 24 (1876) [23:28]
Christian Grøvlen (piano)
rec. November 2019, Sofienberg Church, Norway.
2L RECORDS 2L-163-SACD [85:06]
A programme with less well-known composers that you know has to have been produced with the utmost care and to the highest standards has its own special appeal, and this is a fine example of the species. The 2L label is known for its excellence in recording quality, and Christian Grøvlen is highly respected both as a pianist and as a composer, so his sensitivity to every aspect of this music is second to none.
The word Eventyr “conjures up fairy tales, stories of adventure and stories of fantasy”, and it sums up the variety of narrative, mood and emotion in the recording as a whole. Geirr Tveitt’s Aeolian Harp is a substantial tone poem, the wind in the harp recreated in filigree passages from the piano. There is however much more going on here than mildly resonating strings, with dark dramas developing around ocean storms and the landscape of the west coast of Norway “with its steep cliffs, deep fjords and wild weather - and, most beautiful of all perhaps, the light breaking through the clouds.” All the more surprising, after hearing this substantial work, to discover that this is a world première recording.
Aside from Grieg, Christian Sinding is the best known composer here. He inherited Grieg’s feel for lyricism, but with the added weight of influences from Germany. The Sonata is described in Grøvlen’s booklet notes as “heroic, massive and virtuosic, and - a hallmark of Sinding - dense with murmurs.” Sinding became best known as a symphonist and was apparently a rather shy and retiring character, though you wouldn’t know it from this piece. The piano is treated orchestrally, with a full range of sonorities and textures, and the kind of harmonic sequences and grand melodic shaping that you could easily imagine as a fully blown concerto or high-romantic symphony. For Grøvlen the piece is “in the tradition of the sagas, full of the spirit of Viking ships, billowing sails, voyages of plunder and heroic deeds.” The chorale-like mood generated in the opening central Andante is imposing, its theme developed through intriguing variations, and the third movement brings together the preceding themes into a fiery finale with song-like softness at its heart.
Alf Hurum has the title track with Eventyrland or “Fairy Tale Land”, and the influence of Debussy can be heard in this music from the outset. This is a set of six short pieces which might stand comparison with Ravel’s Ma mère l’Oye with its depictions of scenes and characters from Norwegian folk tales. There is no translation of the titles for each piece, but there’s certainly a princess and some trolls involved along the way. Hurum was a painter as well as a composer, and Grøvlen compares these pieces with the atmospheric and magical paintings of Theodor Kittelsen: “they seem close to nature and somewhat mystical, but at the same time have a childlike naïvety and charm.”
Edvard Grieg’s Ballade is a set of fourteen variations based on a melancholy folk tune from the Valdres valley best known as ‘The Northland Peasantry’. It was composed not long after the death of Grieg’s parents, and Grøvlen hears in it the different stages of grief, “denial, anger, a coming to terms, depression and acceptance.” 1876 was also the period in which Grieg composed his famous music for Peer Gynt, and there are some echoes of this in the Ballade, in its sharp changes of mood and general feeling of some kind of programmatic content, however elusive that might be. Christian Grøvlen’s performance is thoughtful and refined as well as bringing out all of the contrasts in this monumental piece. He certainly takes more time over it than Sigurd Slåttebrekk in his recording for the Simax label (review). This was recorded on Grieg’s piano in the composer’s house in Troldhaugen and doesn’t have the luxury of the Sofienberg Church acoustic, though it is similar in overall timing to Leif Ove Andsnes’ EMI/Warner recording (review). Christian Grøvlen goes a few minutes over the usual 20 taken for this work, but I like the more pensive approach he takes in some of the variations, and he by no means wallows indulgently - this is as good a recording as you will hear anywhere, and this entire disc is both exceptionally fine and very much worth your time.