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Valen: Orchestral Music Vol 2 / Christian Eggen, Stavanger Symphony Orchestra


Release Date: 11/25/2008 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1632   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Fartein Valen
Conductor:  Christian Eggen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stavanger Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



VALEN Symphonies: No. 2. No. 3. Nenia. An die Hoffnung. Epithalamion Christian Eggen, cond; Stavanger SO BIS 1632 (61:49)


In issue 32:1, I enthusiastically welcomed a BIS recording of the Symphony No. 1, the Violin Concerto and several shorter works by this remarkable 20th-century Norwegian composer who is nearly unknown in this country. Here now is the promised Volume 2, a bit delayed, it seems, as it was released in Europe in August of last year. There is also a third and Read more last volume, including the Fourth Symphony and his Piano Concerto, which I hope to hear soon. Valen studied in Europe during the musical upheaval instigated by Schoenberg and his pupils. Intrigued both by serialism and by the elaborate counterpoint of J. S. Bach, but not willing to make a complete break with the past, he found his own way to tame late-Romantic chromaticism. Using classical forms, he created a highly emotive system of dodecaphonic music based on Baroque polyphonic techniques, which gives an impression of vague tonality on a very large time scale. It sounds superficially like Berg writ large.


The shorter works on this disc were all written in a little over a year, in 1932–33, when, rejected by the Norwegian critics who favored the Nationalistic school created on the works of Grieg and Svendsen, Valen was making ends meet in Oslo. He had not yet been granted the government stipend that would allow him to retreat to his sister’s farm on the western coast of Norway and focus on composition, poetry, and roses. These, then, were personal works he wrote for his own purposes, expecting no public performances. Nenia , a lament for the destruction of youth, An die Hoffnung , its op. 18 companion work, which rises ecstatically from the sorrow of the first work, and Epithalamion , written for the anticipated wedding of his nephew, Arne Valen—to whose memory the Violin Concerto was written seven years later—are all built on his seemingly endless layers of counterpoint. All seem indefinite and unsettled, like wandering in the fog, and even when the music is buoyant, as in the wedding piece, the celebration is ambiguous. The effect is hauntingly beautiful, though stark and even severe at times.


The two symphonies were written on the isolated family farm in western Norway during World War II. Though he was physically detached from the conflict, it was still very much on Valen’s mind. The Second Symphony is a rumination on the waste and cruelty of war, a seeming extension of the anguished Nenia of 10 years earlier, expanded into the scope of a classical symphony. Central to the piece is the Adagio movement, inspired by the otherworldly beauty of Rembrandt’s painting Christ in Emmaus . It is a moment of relative repose in this otherwise agitated work. The Third Symphony is Valen’s self-described pastorale. Begun immediately after completion of the Second, this is a brighter work, an evocation of the rugged and spectacular Vestland countryside. Here the same Möbius-like melodic lines are used to suggest vast expanses, the sounds of nature and, in the third movement, the awesome power of a storm.


Christian Eggen and the orchestra of Valen’s birth town are first-rate exponents of these scores. As I noted in my earlier review, these are not easy works. Despite their often-austere beauty, they demand much of the listener in terms of attention and perseverance. But the more they are experienced, the more they reveal. I recommend either of the BIS releases, though perhaps Volume 1, with its greater variety, is the best starting point. For those wishing to explore further, the Norwegian label Simax has released five CDs of Valen’s works, including the four symphonies, the concertos, the shorter orchestral works, and a large selection of songs. While these do not benefit from the extensive editorial work done by Eggen to correct problems in Valen’s often haphazard scores, they are vital performances, sometimes more forceful and dramatic than Eggen’s more hauntingly introspective readings. The two shine light from different angles on works that richly deserve the attention.


FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

1.
Nenia, Op. 18 no 1 by Fartein Valen
Conductor:  Christian Eggen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stavanger Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932; Norway 
2.
An die hoffnung, Op. 18 no 2 by Fartein Valen
Conductor:  Christian Eggen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stavanger Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933; Norway 
3.
Epithalamion, Op. 19 by Fartein Valen
Conductor:  Christian Eggen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stavanger Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933; Norway 
4.
Symphony no 2, Op. 40 by Fartein Valen
Conductor:  Christian Eggen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stavanger Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941-1944; Norway 
5.
Symphony no 3, Op. 41 by Fartein Valen
Conductor:  Christian Eggen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stavanger Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944-1946; Norway 

Sound Samples

Nenia sulla morte d'un giovane, Op. 18, No. 1
An die Hoffnung, Op. 18, No. 2
Epithalamion, Op. 19
Symphony No. 2, Op. 40: I. Allegro con brio
Symphony No. 2, Op. 40: II. Adagio
Symphony No. 2, Op. 40: III. Allegretto
Symphony No. 2, Op. 40: IV. Finale: Allegro molto
Symphony No. 3, Op. 41: I. Allegro moderato
Symphony No. 3, Op. 41: II. Larghetto
Symphony No. 3, Op. 41: III. Intermezzo: Allegro
Symphony No. 3, Op. 41: IV. Finale: Allegro

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