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Ketil HVOSLEF (b.1939)
Chamber Works IV
Sextet (1972) [12.33]
Beethoventrio (1997) [16.02]
Nordic Counterpoint for Fiddles and Bottles (1973) [3.48]
Piano Quintet (2003) [26.39]
Steiner Hannevold (Oboe)
James Lassen (Bassoon)
Britt Pernille Lindvik (Trumpet)
Havard Sannes (Trombone)
Ricardo Odriozola (Violin)
Hara Smiukse (Violin)
John Ehde (Cello)
Einar Rottingen (Piano)
Hakon Nilsen (Clarinet)
Jostein Gundersen, Hansa Olfasker (Beer Bottles)
Ilze Klava (Viola)
rec. 2015, Gunnar Saevigs Sal, The Grieg Academy, Bergen.
LAWO LWC1130 [59.06]

Four contrasting works by one of Norway’s leading composers. Ketil Hvoslef took his mother’s maiden name but is the son of the long-lived and prolific Harold Saeverud (1897-1992) one of Norway’s finest composers of the 20th Century. Hvoslef himself is easily as prolific having to his credit, for example, no less than nineteen concertos.

I haven’t come across the earlier three volumes of Hvoslef’s Chamber works and indeed I had heard hardly any of his music till this disc turned up, but it has made a good impression on me.

The first piece is simply called Sextet and is scored for Oboe, Bassoon, Trumpet, Trombone, Violin and Cello. It has a curiously repetitive rhythmic opening which quite catches one’s breath and then drifts into an atmospheric slow section before bouncing into a witty and lively finale, making a happy ternary structure. It is one of Hvoslef’s earliest recognised works but as the booklet writer (violinist Ricardo Odriozola) says the piece had never been publically performed before but the work “offers an excellent vantage point from which to understand and enjoy Hvoslef’s later chamber creations”. The influence of Jazz and probably rock music is quite clear; the composer has been involved with popular music for much of his life and the influence of Stravinsky is also obvious, works like the Ebony Concerto for example.

Beethoventrio is scored for piano, clarinet and cello. The aforementioned notes describe Hvoslef as having a “refined humour” and this work takes a childlike theme from Beethoven’s Trio Op 11 and runs with it across its single movement which is almost a moto perpetuo. The humour though is ‘dark’ and the notes say that the piece is “unsettling and sinister”. That is what can happen when a simple melody, often broken up and distorted, is subjected to bi-tonality and rhythmic fragmentation. Its wit is difficult to pin down but it has the effect that the composer says he wants, which is “to keep the listener forward in their seat” not knowing where the music will go next.

If we think of this disc as being a four-movement symphony then the third piece ‘Nordic Counterpoint for Fiddles and Bottles’ acts as a sort of Scherzo. And if you know any of Harold Saevarud’s music you might recall a certain amusing bent towards witticism even eccentricity, which Hvoslef has inherited. This little piece which it seems “never fails to elicit a smile” was written for an intermission in the TV programme ‘Kontrapunkt’ a competition between Norway, represented by the first fiddle, and Sweden, just lagging behind a little, represented by the second fiddle and Denmark, rather off the pace, represented by the airy sound of bottles. Quite mad, but good fun.

The finale of the disc, as it were, is the longest ‘movement’ – that is a Piano Quintet. A traditional form which each composer must come to with a great vat of music history behind him or her. Hvoslef, fearlessly, writes a one-movement work of almost half an hour. In the notes we read that “Hvoslef’s style is characterised by an economy of means, and an accumulation of latent energy” and that is certainly the case here. Indeed the composer himself comments that he “dares to approach the very limit of how minimalist it is possible to be”. Its true that this is an austere work but it is not minimalist in the Glass or Reich style. Repeated patterns are not always to be heard and a great climax is built culminating powerfully at the twelve-minute point (pretty much half way) and another is reached just over ten minutes later. After the first climax the material we have got to know is reviewed and developed in the second half of the piece creating in effect a binary structure. There is also a colourful passage of ‘bird-song’ noises and a fascinating ending in which we are hurled “into outer space outside time”. I know what Odriozola means but you need to hear it for yourself.

The recording is excellent, clear and vivid and the performances, it seems to me, ideal. The CD and booklet come in a slim, easily stored cardboard case and the essays quoted are helpful. However the photograph of an ass in front of a dilapidated bungalow is something of a mystery.

Gary Higginson
Previous review: Stuart Sillitoe



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