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Justin Dello Joio: Blue Mountain

Release Date: 08/12/2008 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9273   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Justin Dello Joio
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norwegian Winds
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

J. DELLO JOIO Blue Mountain Kenneth Jean, cond; Njål Sparbo ( Edvard Grieg ); Marianne Andersen ( Nina ); Torben Grue ( Dr. Rossing ); Nils Harald Sødal ( Percy Grainger ); Norwegian Wind Ens BRIDGE 9273 (46:27)

This one-act opera is an impressive piece of work. Read more Justin Dello Joio—son of Norman—is a composer who knows how to communicate without selling out. (See my favorable review of his piano and chamber music in Fanfare 31:3). Blue Mountain , which examines the final days in the life of Grieg, was commissioned by the Norwegian Wind Ensemble for performance in 2007, the centenary of Grieg’s death.

The libretto (by the composer) shows us the dying Grieg under the influence of morphine, anguished about the future of his music, and subject to visions of his deceased only daughter. His wife Nina and his doctor nurse him through, and he is momentarily buoyed by a visit from the young composer/pianist Percy Grainger, who has championed his Piano Concerto in London. (Grainger cheered up the aging Delius too, as we know from Ken Russell’s TV film A Song of Summer .) With the renewed optimism Grainger brings him, Grieg dies content.

Employing a chamber orchestra of winds, piano, and percussion, Dello Joio brings to vibrant life the mood swings of the tormented Grieg. The opera has no arias as such, but is framed by two extended scenas : the first for Grieg, during a troubled and hallucinogenic night, “O Silence, I fear you”; and the second for Nina, an affecting passage filled with tenderness and resignation. Dello Joio’s through-composed recitative never dawdles, and he displays a sure touch dramatically. In this, and other ways, his writing resembles that of Menotti—high operatic praise.

He also makes imaginative use of Grieg’s music, which sneaks into the texture whenever the subject is mentioned. The dying man’s desperate wish to see Grainger is underscored by a brilliantly refracted reference to the opening cadenza of the A-Minor Piano Concerto, and there are several more subtle instances.

The performances are excellent. Sparbo’s bass encompasses the wide tessitura of his role with confidence, if not total ease at the top. (He has all of Grieg’s male voice songs in his repertoire.) Andersen is similarly strong at the extremes of her range. The work is in English and although all four singers are Norwegian, their clear pronunciation is easier to follow than many British and American singers I have heard. Ironically, the strongest Norwegian accent belongs to Percy Grainger. The voices are closely recorded but well balanced, with the crack instrumental ensemble.

This would be the perfect work for a progressive company to team with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri , or possibly Walton’s The Bear , which also demands a strong bass and mezzo. Recommended.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Blue Mountain by Justin Dello Joio
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norwegian Winds
Period: 20th Century 

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