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Norwegian overtures LWC1218
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Norwegian Opera Overtures
Waldemar THRANE (1790-1828)
Fjeldeventyret – Overture (1824) [7.37]
Martin UDBYE (1820-1889)
Fredkulla -Overture (1859) [6.55]
Johannes HAARKLOU (1847-1925)
Væringene I Miklagard – Overture (1897-1900) [8.13]
Ole OLSEN (1850-1927)
Lajla – Overture (1893) [7.44]
Sigwart ASPESTRAND (1856-1942)
Der Recke von Lyrskovsheid – Overture (1901) [7.16]
Catharinus ELLING (1858-1942)
Kossakkene- Overture (1894) [8.34]
Danser [6.47]
Hjalmar BORGSTRØM (1864-1925)
Thora paa Rimal – Overture (1894) [9.14]
Arne EGGEN (1881-1955)
Olav Liljekrans – Danser (1931-40) [8.29]
The Norwegian National Opera Orchestra/ Ingar Bergby
rec. 20-24 January, 10 March 2020; Orchestra Rehearsal Hall, The Norwegian Opera and Ballet, Oslo.

I enjoyed this enormously and recommend it not only to anyone who loves Norwegian music – as I do – but as a splendid introduction for anyone who wants to explore beyond Grieg, Halvorsen, Svendsen, Sinding and Tveitt. All the works here are thoroughly accomplished, and the only disappointment is that only one opera appears to have a complete recording - Thora paa Rimal by Hjalmar Borgstrøm (Simax PSC1230 – 2008). As far as I can discover, these overtures are the only available extracts from the seven other operas. On a variety of levels, we should be very grateful to LAWO and all others involved. In his informative notes, Ingar Bergby notes: ‘The recording would never have seen the light of day without retired conductor Terje Boye Hansen’s untiring efforts on behalf of Norway’s musical heritage’. Whatever he did, the result is an invaluable document.

Apart from Thrane, who studied in Paris, the composers in this collection were trained in Germany, and all at some time at Leipzig, and one is aware very strongly of this influence. This is especially striking in Væringene I Miklagard by Johannes Haarklou. Though Haarklou was born in the year Mendelssohn died, the influence of Mendelssohn’s style is instantly apparent. He had studied in Kristiana (Oslo) under, among others, Johan Svendsen, but he later continued his musical education in Leipzig. Mendelssohnian or not, the overture is admirably crafted and a highlight of the CD. Another example is Sigwardt Aspestrand, who studied at the conservatoires of Leipzig and Berlin and lived in Berlin for 30 years (1885-1915). His opera, Der Recke von Lyrskovsheid (note the German title), referred to as a ‘Grand Opera with Ballet in 4 Acts’ has never been performed in its entirety, but the overture is immensely appealing. Only his first opera (of eight) Sjømmansbruden, premiered in 1894 at Coburg, and revived at Kristiana in 1907, has been fully performed.

A more specifically Nordic note can be found most evidently in the Danser from Olav Liljekrans by Arne Eggen. The style is a little reminiscent of Geirr Tveitt and his Opus 151, A Hundred Hardanger Tunes – in places there are distinct echoes of the eight or nine stringed hardingfele (hardanger fiddle) – but bound into a characterful and rousing piece.

Perhaps the least unknown of these composers to non-Norwegians is Ole Olsen (or perhaps it is that he is the only one of whose music I have two CDs), a remarkable musical prodigy, who substituted for his organist father at the age of six or seven. Often thought of as the most northerly of all classical composers – he was born at Hammerfest, which claims to be the world’s most northern town, four degrees above the Arctic circle. Lailja, the only one of his five operas performed in his lifetime, was completed in 1893, but did not receive its very successful premiere until 1908 at the National Theatre. The overture is perhaps the most characterful of all on the CD, with delightful, somewhat folk-like tunes as well as militaristic, brass-heavy interludes (much of Olsen’s career was involved with brass bands, especially military ones) with hints of Wagner.

While this collection does not reveal any hidden great master, it is a record of high accomplishment, with much to delight and inform. Performances are committed, idiomatic, and immensely enjoyable.

Michael Wilkinson

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