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Eyvind ALNAES (1872-1932)
Piano Concerto in D major (1915) Op.27 [31.25]
Symphony in C minor Op.7 (1897) [37.41]
Håvard Gimse (piano)
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Elvind Aadland
rec. 2016

As a follower of obscure composers, I must say that I have encountered Alnaes before and have several CDs of his music.  My fellow reviewer, Gary Higginson in his review of this disc provided some useful background on this little known figure so I need not repeat the same information here.

The disc begins with the powerful and interesting Piano Concerto, played by the estimable Håvard Gimse (several of whose other recordings I own).  He is certainly the right man for the job, injecting enough virtuosic pyrotechnics where required but is also able to play peacefully and reflectively at other times.  The work is in the traditional three movements, the first being the longest.  This starts with some powerful statements for solo piano before the orchestra joins the fun.  This is a generally sunny and happy movement, full of confidence and brio.  The recording is very clear and bright, with plenty of detail apparent in the excellent orchestral accompaniment.  Things calm down about two minutes in, with some very Rachmaninov-like passagework which then gradually builds into something more powerful.  There is some lovely muted string playing at around three minutes before a lovely piece of piano writing comes to the fore.   There is much of interest here as the whole movement is bursting with good tunes and some wonderful writing for all concerned.  The movement ends with more virtuosity and some hair-raising playing, especially about twelve minutes in.  The following Lento is a much more restrained and mysterious affair starting with some rather interesting muted horns and a slightly melancholy atmosphere, which gradually lightens, culminating in a major orchestral and soloist outburst at five minutes.  This comes as a surprise, as after the sombre beginning, cheerfulness returns and it is like the sun coming out from behind a cloud.  This dissipates and leads directly into the very bouncy and energetic last movement which is guaranteed to put a smile on your face (it did mine!).  It slows down after about two minutes before a thoughtful sounding passage which sounds like something which Rachmaninov forgot to write.  There follows a really energetic section which bounds along with plenty of zest.  Around six minutes after a brief pause, the bounciness returns with some monstrously difficult trills for the soloist.  There is plenty here for the orchestra as well as the soloist , as the writing is full of detail.  The cadenza towards the end of the movement is sensitively played and leads to a nice orchestral Tutti before the soloist and orchestra join for a restatement of the bouncy theme and then a powerful closing statement with everyone playing away cheerfully.  I would say that if you like Rachmaninov and Liszt, you are bound to like this piece, as there are echoes of both throughout this work.  I should also point out that I have the other recording of this work, which was recorded by Hyperion as volume 42 of their Romantic Piano Concerto series, with Piers Lane as soloist.  The timings of both are very similar.

Next follows the earlier Symphony, dating from 1897.  To my ears, the opening section of this sounds a little like Tchaikovsky before evolving into something different.  The first movement is well constructed and seems to hold together well.  As with the concerto, there is some excellent work done by all the forces concerned and all of the details are captured perfectly.  There is a lot going on here!  Alnaes seems to have a fondness for downward gestures and these occur frequently in this first movement.  From about five minutes in, the music takes on a striving and more positive outlook and seems to be hunting for a direction.  It finally seems to settle down at around seven minutes with a return of the descending themes heard at the outset.  Things calm down at eight minutes with some very lovely writing for woodwinds and pizzicato string accompaniment but, perhaps as you might expect, things liven up again for the closing few minutes of the piece.  The ending is mysterious with a tramping tune which sounds faintly sinister before building to a powerful statement for brass and full orchestra.  The second movement starts in a more uniform way than that preceding it; the overall shape of the music is much less agitated and there are fewer outbursts.  It’s certainly not a quiet slow movement and, as before, there is a lot of detail all of which is present and correct.  There is a lovely oboe tune starting at 3’13’’ which seems to be the beginning of the movement proper.  It winds its way through with some lovely accompanying music from the rest of the orchestra.  This theme is particularly interesting to me, as an ex-oboist; it is very beguiling, and it acts as the glue which holds the whole movement together as it is taken up by various other parts of the orchestra.  This is the sort of piece you can lose yourself in as it meanders beautifully along.  The following Allegro is not marked as a Scherzo, although it is jokey in mood at the start; it settles down into more of a march later on, though.  Again, this is a wonderfully evocative piece; it bounces along rather nicely with lots of varied and interesting things going on.   The strings seem to lead the charge with the themes, building upwards (rather than downwards as in the first two movements) which gives the piece a feeling of forward momentum.  The tempo is perfect and all the details are present.  The end is actually a little unexpected: the music suddenly turns a corner and ends.  It’s a nice touch and it works well.  The finale is another Allegro, which is again mostly march-like.  The music builds quickly to a small outburst at about one minute in, which seems to be the beginning of a new, more peaceful, section to the work.  This leads to some passagework for the strings (at two minutes) which reminds me of the opening of Rachmaninov’s First Symphony, dating from a couple of years earlier but unknown at the time.   The darkness inherent in that string figure is soon dispelled and the music returns to more cheerful territory.  I particularly like the key change and the evocative slowing down section beginning at about 3’50”.  It doesn’t stay slow for long, as the music builds again to another powerful statement of the march and nicely sets up the remainder of the movement.  Unsurprisingly, the symphony ends with a flourish and some virtuoso playing from all concerned.  This is another striving movement, full of confidence, good tunes and nicely orchestrated.  The orchestra is on top form here (as it is throughout the disc) and certainly makes a very good case for the music.

This is a disc I shall be returning to often, not just because it is excellent music but because of the commitment the orchestra show in their playing and the stirring work done by the conductor.   Overall, this is a very interesting disc, with some detailed cover notes providing some background information on the works recorded and their history.  It’s well worth listening out for if you like obscure works by late 19th and early 20th century composers, plus there is some wonderfully evocative playing by both soloist and orchestra.  I do hope these forces go on to record the other Alnaes symphony which appears to have been recorded only the once.

Jonathan Welsh
Previous reviews: Gary Higginson ~ Rob Barnett

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