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Norwegian Classical Favourites: Vol. 2
Harald SÆVERUD (1897-1992)
Peer Gynt Music Op.28: (i) Devil’s Five-Hop (ii) Hymn against the Bøyg (iii) Mixed Company
Geirr TVEITT (1908-1981)
A Hundred Hardanger Tunes Op.151: (i) Welcome with Honour (ii) Langeleik Tune (iii) Hardanger Ale
Eyvind GROVEN (1901-1977)
At Evening Op.60
Hjalarljod Overture Op.38
Edvard Fliflet BRÆIN (1924-1976)
Out Towards the Sea
Gunnar GJERSTRØM (1891-1951)
Øystein SOMMERFELDT (1919-1994) Little Overture Op.11
Ludvig IRGENS-JENSEN (1894-1969)
Bol’s Song
Harald SÆVERUD (1897-1992)
The Ballad of the Revolt Op.22
Fartein VALEN (1887-1952)
The Churchyard by the Sea Op.20
Johan HALVORSEN (1864-1935)
Scenes from Norwegian Fairy Tales Op.37: II – The Princess Riding on the Bear; III- Entry of the Trolls into the Blue Mountain; IV- Dance of the Trolls
Iceland Symphony Orchestra/ Bjarte Engeset Recorded at the Concert Hall of the ISO Reykjavik, 18-21 and 24-28 June 2002 DDD NAXOS 8.557018 [64:42]

Naxos and Norway – these “Ns” are two of my favourite things. Having got that off my chest, in my day job I would now be considered biased and excluded from the review process. Here (I hope), it is acceptable to express personal prejudices and, if anyone is convinced, fair enough. So now you know that I approached this disc with very positive feelings. I assure you that I will mention any disappointments. There were none relating to the programme, performances or recording. I have just a couple of small gripes about the booklet even though, as is usual on Naxos, annotation is more generous than on many full price issues. The essay is by the conductor, Bjarte Engerset and, although interesting and authoritative, it is not always easy to follow in respect of temporal matters (e.g. “written after the war” is ambiguous for a composer born in 1897). Furthermore, it is not invariably obvious whether you are listening to a complete work or an extract.

The first Naxos disc of Norwegian classical favourites featuring the same artists was reviewed favourably by both John Phillips and Jonathan Woolf. (review) There is also an alternative compilation on BIS from the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eivind Aadland (link). I haven’t heard any of these but would guess that, if you are unfamiliar with Norwegian music beyond the better-known compositions of Grieg, the first Naxos disc would be the best place to start. I probably passed it by because it begins with some music from Peer Gynt (a problem of duplication). So does the second disc but in this case it was not composed by Grieg.

Harald Sæverud’s music for Peer Gynt was written for a new production in 1948 and the three pieces presented here are extracts from a much larger work (facts not in the booklet but obtained by “googling” which took me to – guess what? - a MusicWeb review, the link is below). First comes the Devil’s Five-Hop, a rhythmic diabolical romp that even I can tell is in quintuple time. Mixed Company is a parody of Peer Gynt’s travels containing some quotations from well-known tunes from around the world (e.g. the Marseillaise). You could enjoy yourself by playing this to an unsuspecting friend, who probably won’t have a clue what it is. Whilst the extracts from Peer Gynt presented here are mostly fun, Sæverud’s serious side is represented later on with the brooding Ballad of the Revolt. Indeed the objective of the disc seems to be to move you on from traditional Norwegian music, much of which was inspired by folk-song to the more progressive composers of the 20th century, of whom Sæverud was probably the most important. Sæverud said of his own music that it “grew out of the Norwegian soil and landscape – not from folk music”.

Before getting very far along this road we pass by three highlights of Geirr Tveitt’s Hundred Hardanger Tunes, most notably Hardanger Ale. Suites 1, 2, 4 and 5 from this work are available (in different recordings) on two other excellent Naxos discs (see reviews linked below). Prior to the Sæverud ballad there are several short but attractive pieces by little known composers, all of which are rewarding and tend to be pastoral in nature (although Sommerfeldt’s Little Overture is quite boisterous). The climax of the disc and, for me, the greatest work here is The Churchyard by the Sea, a deeply felt elegy by Fartein Valen, written in 1933. Valen is a composer I had heard of but not heard before and his music seems to have a reputation for being “difficult”, presumably because it is both atonal and polyphonic. On this evidence, it is approachable as well as highly original. The disc concludes on a lighter note with three extracts from Halvorsen’s Scenes from Norwegian Fairy Tales.

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra plays really well and Bjarte Engeset lives up to the high reputation he is gaining from various records on this label. The recording, made in the Reykjavik Concert Hall, is splendid.

In addition to this disc and its predecessor, Naxos have also put out a worthwhile disc of Norwegian Violin Favourites (8.554497) which makes for very amiable listening. So, where next for this series? There must be suitable material for a third “Norwegian classical favourites” and I would certainly not complain. But my hope is that the implied possibility of this disc, i.e. of getting people interested in the orchestral music of composers such as Valen (who wrote four symphonies and a violin concerto) and Sæverud (nine symphonies and various concertos), will come to fruition in their catalogue.

Finally, if I may digress, for a brief moment, to my enthusiasm for Norway, a wonderful country to visit. The only drawback is the high cost of almost everything. But cost shouldn’t put you off buying this disc; the price is about the same as a beer in Oslo. For that you get a wonderful musical proxy for a trip to Norway, the effects of which will substantially outlast any beer (except perhaps Hardanger Ale!). This is a disc to savour.

Patrick Waller

Review of Peer Gynt and other music by Sæverud:

Reviews of Naxos Tveitt discs of Hundred Hardanger tunes:

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