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Cello Concerto; Symphony No.8
Truls Mork (cello)/Stavanger Symphony Orchestra/Ole Kristian Ruud
BIS CD-972 [64' 21"]

Bergen-born Saeverud (1897-1992) saw musical life from different angles. As a conductor he worked with Clemens Krauss, and for a decade or so was a music critic (good for him!). First and foremost he was a composer - a very self-critical one. Not for the first time Robert Ronnes (a fellow Norwegian composer close to Saeverud) has realised music that proved troublesome to its composer. Saeverud started his Cello Concerto in 1930, revised it in the 'fifties, but its final form remained elusive. Seventy years on, a first performance and recording!

This CD is Volume 5 of BIS's Saeverud series. An English counterpart to him would be Edmund Rubbra. Those who appreciate Rubbra's formal mastery and spiritual aspirations should certainly respond to Saeverud. Melody is the root of Saeverud's invention; his expression is personal and communicative and requires concurrent appreciation of its organic development and emotional release. The Concerto - superbly played by Mork - has an unlikely beginning, a clarinet cadenza imitating a jazz break! Saeverud's musical ideas serve and extend tightly organised structures in which the soloist is integrated with a smallish orchestra dialoguing rhythmic cells and interweaving colours. The music's emotional core comes into its own in the plaintive slow movement. Fine music that invites further playing.

The Symphony, sub-titled "Minnesota", was composed in 1958 for the state's centenary. Antal Dorati premiered it with the Minneapolis Orchestra. While the Concerto emerges as a satisfying entity (now), Saeverud's penultimate Symphony is uneven (yes, Saeverud's another nine-symphony composer!). At 40 minutes it's an ambitious work, full of fine things, but it lacks symphonic direction. I wonder if Saeverud was distracted by the reason for the commission (he kept a map of Minnesota above his desk during composition)? The first movement `Once upon a time…' grows from nothing to suggest great industry. Despite vital rhythms and colourful orchestration I feel Saeverud is more concerned with imagery than musical argument. But the slow movement is another matter. My experience of Saeverud to date suggests him as primarily a composer of abstract music requiring intelligent listening. He certainly has a heart (and wit) though, and his ability to characterise is achieved economically and imaginatively. So, the 8th Symphony's `Hope and longing' movement is especially beautiful, an ever-evolving melody, nostalgic and melancholy, autumnal-coloured (with a suggestion of Copland's Appalachian Spring at the opening). Arching and sighing, this music's shapely contours quietly stab the heart.

What follows is a delightful, somewhat corny movement that is more concerned with local colour - people and animals living an untroubled life in a rural setting - that relies on instrumental effect and village-hall waltz. The Finale is the percussive movement `Man and the machine' might suggest; though there's some troubled lyricism - suggestive of `man versus machine' perhaps - along the way.

Excellent performances complemented by outstanding sound. Anyone new to Saeverud should try first his music for Peer Gynt [BIS-CD-762] and the Violin Concerto coupled with Symphony 3 [BIS-CD-872]… then make room for more! Those that already know this fine composer's music will, I imagine, not be hesitating. For the symphony's slow movement alone this CD is recommended.


Colin Anderson


Colin Anderson

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