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Nordic Spring
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
From Holberg’s Time, Op. 40 [18:33]
Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974)
Suite No. 3, Op. 19 No. 3, for violin, viola and strings [11:05]
Johan SVENDSEN (1840-1911)
Romance for violin and orchestra, Op. 26 [8:28]
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Little Suite for Strings, Op. 1 [14:45]
Edvard BRÆIN (1924-1976)
Serenade for viola and orchestra [4:16]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Valse triste, Op. 44 [4:46]
Lars Anders Tomter (viola - Atterberg, Bræin)
Terje Tønnesen (violin - Atterberg, Svendsen)
Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
rec. 1-5 October 2012 and 26 February 2013, Lommedalen kirke, Norway
SIMAX CLASSICS PSC 1264 [61:56]

This is an attractive collection of well-known and less familiar Nordic works for string orchestra.
 
It commences with a vibrant, enthusiastic, nicely articulated performance of the Holberg Suite’s ‘Prelude’. This is as expected of these Norwegian players so accustomed to the niceties of the Grieg idiom. The succeeding movements impress strongly too: a tender poetic ‘Sarabande’; the gentle pastoral/folk music of the ‘Gavotte-Musette’; the poignant, yearning ‘Air’ and the vivacity that is the concluding ‘Rigaudon’. Tonnesen’s reading could hardly be bettered. At the other end of the concert there is Sibelius’s melancholy waltz, Valse Triste. This poignantly evokes a dying woman’s dream of dancers around her bed, then joining them and meeting Death in the guise of her deceased husband who has come to claim her.
 
Kurt Atterberg’s imaginative, evocative and dramatic music has always enthralled me especially his symphonies. His Suite for Violin, Viola and String Orchestra was originally conceived as incidental music to Maurice Maeterlinck’s play Sister Beatrice. This lovely, soulful music would have graced a 1940s Warner Bros ‘weepie’, and that is no disparagement. Quoting the good notes to this album: “The opening Prelude is a richly-harmonised nocturne in which the voices of the violin and viola intertwine in full-hearted duet.” The ‘Pantomim’ second movement has a chorale-like theme supporting the “solo instruments’ passionate lament”. The finale ‘Vision’ starts in a Sibelius-Valse Triste-like waltz but develops into a larger canvass. This work is worth the price of the CD alone.
 
Johan Svendsen’s Romance for Violin and Orchestra is another gorgeous piece with the violin luxuriating in golden memories with lively dancing recalled in the happy mid-section. Nielsen’s Little Suite was an early creation before the great symphonies. It has long been popular and although cast in the beginnings of his own inimitable style, it owes something to Brahms and Dvořák. The middle movement waltz entrances. Edvard Bræin’s melodic Serenade for Viola and Orchestra moves from a grave soliloquy for the viola, against the strings, to a lighter waltz before despondency returns.
 
An appealing concert of string music from a polished ensemble.
 
Ian Lace

and the earlier review by Brian Reinhart ...


This CD is “light” enough that it might escape critical attention, or your attention, but it shouldn’t, because it is flawless. The Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, hidden away for recording sessions in a rural church with artistic director and lead violinist Terje Tønnesen and globally-acclaimed violist Lars Anders Tomter, have here assembled a programme that blends popular hits with hits you just don’t know yet.
 
There is nothing to complain about anywhere. We get a fresh Grieg Holberg Suite with sharp rhythms and great solo lines, easily the equal of other recent Holberg recordings by the likes of the Bergen Philharmonic (on SACD) or Oslo Camerata. There’s also a fine Sibelius Valse triste as an encore; and in between a slew of works less popular but no less attractive.
 
Kurt Atterberg’s Suite No. 3 for violin, viola and string orchestra has become a popular coupling lately, appearing on a Naxos disc and on the first volume of the Chandos Atterberg series. The performance here is wonderfully warm and idiomatic, and both soloists are outstanding. Tønnesen also solos in Johan Svendsen’s Romance, a sure-fire radio hit if I’ve ever heard one. With its big romantic tune and simply lavish writing, it sounds like the slow movement to the greatest violin concerto never written.
 
Violist Tomter has an even more obscure solo: a serenade by Edvard Fliflet Bræin (1924-1976; the æ is pronounced like the “a” in “apple”), who was active from the end of the Second World War until his death in 1976. One of his last pieces: an opera based on a play by Holberg, in tribute to whom Grieg wrote his suite. The Serenade for viola and orchestra is one of Bræin’s very first adult compositions, dating from 1947 (age 23). It reveals, maybe, why he’s so little-known: the music is so pretty, tuneful, and calmly appealing that it would have been a hit fifty years before it was written. I love it.
 
Add in totally winning performances of Nielsen’s Little Suite - as fresh and youthful as you could wish - and Sibelius’ Valse triste (a bittersweet encore), and you have a joyful programme wonderfully played. The sound quality, even on 320 kbps MP3s from ClassicsOnline, is flawless. Even when Tønnesen rhapsodizes in his Svendsen solo number, every accompanist is fully audible behind him, such are the benefits of the small orchestra and the warm, inviting church acoustic. Is it clear that I couldn’t be happier with this CD?  

Brian Reinhart

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