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Johan Severin SVENDSEN (1840-1911)
Orchestral Works - Vol. 3
Norsk Kunstnerkarneval, Op. 14 (1874) [6:44]
Violin Concerto in A, Op. 6 (1870) [28:14]
Two Icelandic Melodies, for strings (1874) [6:17]
Symphony No. 1 in D, Op. 4 (1866) [33:28]
Marianne Thorsen (violin)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. 20-22 August 2012, Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway
CHANDOS CHAN 10766 [74:10]
 
It’s good to see Neeme Järvi recording for Chandos once more, given the resounding success of his Strauss and Shostakovich cycles with the RSNO in the 1980s and 1990s. That said, his more recent forays into Henk de Vlieger’s Wagner ‘adventures’ with his old band are somewhat disappointing (review). Those with his new one, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, are variable too, although I did succumb to the charms of his Raff and Chabrier (review) (review). As for the Bergen Philharmonic, they too have been in and out of my good books lately; I was very unimpressed by their Stravinsky and Prokofiev recordings with Andrew Litton (BIS) but was bowled over by their Berlioz with Sir Andrew Davis (review) and Turangalîla with Juanjo Mena (review).
 
Thankfully both conductor and orchestra are in genial form here. The much-travelled composer Johan Svendsen is new to me, but the music he penned for the Norwegian Artists’ Carnival of 1874 - Norsk Kunstnerkarneval - suggests a lively and tuneful idiom that’s engaging, if not entirely memorable. Järvi is brisk rather than brusque and the Bergen players respond with commendable alacrity and style. The sound has the resonance and warmth one expects from Chandos, although Hyperion’s recording for Mena - it was one of my picks for 2012 - really does this hall proud.
 
After that attractive opener - perhaps best described as Nielsen-lite - the Violin Concerto offers more of the same; deftly scored and with a winsome solo part it has some pleasing tunes and nicely shaded playing from all concerned. I particularly liked the lyrical, well-rounded sound that Marianne Thorsen produces, although some may find she’s a little too distant. Otherwise Chandos have done a good job of capturing the violin’s filigreed loveliness; however, their trademark bass heft means the orchestra’s answering declamations sound slightly overblown.
 
The Two Icelandic Melodies don’t break the mould, and as Morten Christophersen points out in his detailed liner-notes it’s difficult to see why some contemporaries felt Svendsen’s Symphony No. 1 was such a startling new departure. In four movements it’s certainly strong and sinewy and Järvi draws crisp, animated playing from his band. Longueurs? Yes, the pulse falters at times and a touch of the reviving paddles is required to restore the beat. Perhaps one could best characterise the piece as a cross between Brahms and Berlioz, partly earthbound and partly liberating, with a tad more of the former than the latter.
 
There’s a lot of it about - little known and/or neglected music - and I suppose that’s a necessary corrective after umpteen dozen versions of so-called ‘core classics’. It’s a risky enterprise though, but as Järvi’s Raff confirms there are some genuine discoveries to be made. Is Svendsen in the same category? Perhaps not, but there are worse ways to pass an hour or so than by listening to this diverting disc.
 
Off the well-trodden path; worth the detour - just.
 
Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei
 
See also reviews by Byzantion and Jonathan Woolf

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