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Johan Svendsen: Orchestra Works, Vol. 3 / Jarvi, Thorsen, Bergen Philharmonic

Svendsen / Thorsen / Bergen Philharmonic Orch
Release Date: 04/30/2013 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10766   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johan Svendsen
Performer:  Marianne Thorsen
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This last volume in the survey of orchestral music by the Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen takes us to the second half of the 1860s, when Svendsen was in his twenties, a recent graduate of the Leipzig Conservatory. Symphony No. 1 was dedicated to Carl F. Leche, the Swedish-Norwegian consul in Lübeck, who had helped Svendsen secure funding to attend that Conservatory. The orchestration is French in character, the sound world one full of contrasts. To islandske Melodier (Two Icelandic Melodies) is an arrangement for string orchestra of two tunes collected during a trip to Iceland and the Faroe Islands in 1867. Svendsen thought the Violin Concerto, which followed in 1870, to be something new and original, its focus resting on the Read more contrast in timbre between the soloist and the orchestra, and on symphonic development, rather than on virtuosic display – though the solo part is highly active and always challenging. The work is thought to be modelled, at least in part, on Berlioz’s Harold en Italie. The Norwegian violinist Marianne Thorsen is the expert soloist. Norsk Kunstnerkarneval (Norwegian Artists’ Carnival) was composed for the annual carnival of the Artists’ Association in Christiania, the town (now Oslo) in which Svendsen had settled with his family. The work has two main themes: a Norwegian folk dance and an Italian popular melody (made especially famous in an arrangement by Donizetti). At the work’s climax Svendsen joins these two melodies in counterpoint – though they are in different metres. It remains one of Svendsen’s most popular works. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Neeme Järvi. - Chandos

Reviews
“...Volume 3 shares the strengths of its predecessors – specifically, a generous supply of charm and fine craftsmanship in the works themselves, and capable, sensitive performances from maestro Järvi, his orchestras and his soloists...” - Raymond S. Tuttle, International Record Review – [April 2013]

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This is Volume 3 in a series of discs devoted to the orchestral works of a composer who, it’s believed, composed no more than 33 works with opus numbers, of which approximately 21 are orchestral scores, if you count the cantatas for chorus and orchestra. If you don’t count them, then the four works included on this latest installment, added to the 10 included on Volume 1 (see Fanfare 35:5), plus the four included on Volume 2 ( Fanfare 36:4), should wrap up this survey, but with Neeme Järvi you never know.


The famous anecdote of the volatile relationship between Svendsen and his American wife ending with her tossing her husband’s manuscript of a Third Symphony into the fire is probably fictional, but it makes for colorful reading. Sketches, however, for what was probably on its way to becoming another symphony were expanded and orchestrated by Norwegian composer Bjørn Morten Christophersen and premiered by the Bergen Philharmonic as recently as 2011. Perhaps in a follow-up album, Järvi will give us Christophersen’s speculative score.


Meanwhile, what we have on the present disc are Svendsen’s First Symphony and a very ambitious Violin Concerto, plus the shorter programmatic pieces, Norwegian Artist’s Carnival and Two Icelandic Melodies . Svendsen is what I would characterize as a Scandinavian generalist. Like his close contemporaries, Grieg and Danish composer C. F. E. Horneman, Svendsen was yet another product of the Leipzig Conservatory, studying violin with Ferdinand David (of Mendelssohn Violin Concerto fame) and composition with Carl Reinecke. But Svendsen’s works that bear national or folkloristic titles, like Norwegian Artist’s Carnival , don’t sound Norwegian the way Grieg’s music does. In fact, in both style and content, there’s little difference between the boisterous, celebratory, dance-like character of the symphony and the Carnival ; and listening to the Two Icelandic Melodies , I’m not sure you would know if you were in Iceland or Finland—there’s a hint of Sibelius in the air.


The violin concerto betrays Svendsen’s training as a violinist under David in many places, but it’s not likely to find a niche among the great romantic concertos, firstly because it’s not really much of a virtuoso vehicle, and secondly, because the composer was so symphonically oriented in his approach that, as pointed out by the above Christopherson, who authored the album note, the work is more of a symphony with violin obbligato than it is a concerto, modeled along the lines of Berlioz’s Harold in Italy . It has, however, been recorded before, not that terribly long ago by Lars Bjørnkjær for Danacord, reviewed in 31:6, a disc I’m afraid I don’t have, but also by Arve Tellefsen with the Oslo Philharmonic on a 1990s Norsk Kulturrads Forlag (NKF) CD, which I do have. Though Tellefsen is every bit Marianne Thorsen’s match on the current Chandos release, unfortunately the NKF recording is a bit dull and recessed sounding.


With the exception of the Romance for Violin and Orchestra, the one work which has probably kept Svendsen from slipping below the horizon with the late-setting summer Scandinavian sun, all of the works on this third volume of his orchestral output are pleasant and attractive, and in the capable hands of Neeme Järvi, the Bergen Philharmonic, violinist Marianne Thorsen, and Chandos’s engineers, beautifully played and recorded; but—ah, the inevitable “but”—the musical nourishment Svendsen affords is probably not life-sustaining. Still, if you’re an obsessive collector, as I suspect many of Fanfare ’s readers are, and you acquired Volumes 1 and 2 of this Svendsen survey, this third is obligatory.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins    
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Works on This Recording

1. Symphony no 1 in D major, Op. 4 by Johan Svendsen
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1865-1866; Norway 
2. Norwegian Artists Carnival, Op. 14 by Johan Svendsen
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1874; Norway 
3. Icelandic Melodies (2) for Strings, Op. 30 by Johan Svendsen
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877; Norway 
4. Concerto for Violin in A major, Op. 6 by Johan Svendsen
Performer:  Marianne Thorsen (Violin)
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1869-1870; Norway 

Sound Samples

Norsk kunstnerkarneval (Norwegian Artists' Carnival), Op. 14
Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 6: I. Allegro moderato ben risoluto
Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 6: II. Andante
Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 6: III. Finale: Allegro giusto
2 Icelandic Melodies, Op. 30: No. 1. Maestoso
2 Icelandic Melodies, Op. 30: No. 2. Moderato
Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 4: I. Molto allegro
Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 4: II. Andante
Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 4: III. Allegretto scherzando
Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 4: IV. Finale: Maestoso - Allegro assai con fuoco

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