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Johan Svendsen: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 / Jarvi, Mork, Bergen Philharmonic

Svendsen / Mork / Bergen Philharmonic Orch / Jarvi
Release Date: 09/25/2012 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10711   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johan Svendsen
Performer:  Truls Otterbech Mork
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Neeme Järvi’s association with the wonderful Bergen Philharmonic continues to bear impressive fruit. Their Chandos-Halvorsen set was a recent highlight and this second disc in the Svendsen cycle continues the good impression. Chandos follow the same programming formula as they did with the Halvorsen creating a concert-like disc with music of a range of scale and musical weight. Given that Svendsen remains a relatively unfamiliar composer this makes excellent sense offering the listener a good overview of his style.

With the exception of the cello concerto I have encountered all of the music here before although differently coupled. Tempting - and neat - though it must be for progammers to bring together all four of the
Read more Norwegian Rhapsodies sequentially I think Chandos are extremely wise to split them as here. This disc opens with the third and fourth. They were conceived as a set and given adjacent opus numbers. Svendsen found the traditional melodies in a published collection. Unlike some other nationalist composers he was not a field collector. These works are simply and effectively presented. Liner writer B. Morten Christophersen points up a compositional technique Svendsen uses called ‘changing background technique’. In essence this means that the tune in the foreground is repeated unchanged while ‘background’ harmony and accompaniment varies. This does rather support Constant Lambert’s view that all you can do with a folk-tune is play it again … but louder. Beautiful as these melodies and their arrangements are I must admit four rhapsodies on the bounce would be too much! Also, Svendsen does not make any effort to give them a nature setting - for want of a better term - in the way Holst or Vaughan Williams do in their Somerset or Norfolk Rhapsodies. So if these pieces are appealing but not remarkable they do serve to point up the many virtues of these performances which are fully alive to the natural ebb and flow of this music. We hear lovely, supple and elegant playing - I’m thinking especially of the principal oboe who is stunning throughout. Also, in the Grieghallen, Chandos have found a recording venue that allows them to produce a consistently fine sound of ideal richness and warmth but with inner detail that is also abundantly clear. Likewise, as I noted with the Halvorsen releases, Järvi seems in his element producing readings that have his hallmark energy and flair but with the emotional engagement that has been lacking in some of his more recent discs.

The rarity on this disc is the early Cello Concerto. In its use of one-linked-movement form Morten Christophersen’s liner-note points up the Liszt E flat piano concerto as a probable model. Formally that might indeed be the case but this piece occupies a very different emotional sphere with restrained lyricism in the place of Lisztian display. Truls Mørk is a predictably fine and insightful soloist with just the right rich but unforced tone to make the most of this unpretentious but very appealing work. This has been recorded before back in 1974 by cellist Hege Waldeland but to all intents and purposes this will be a first encounter for many collectors and indeed the main reason for considering purchasing the disc. By that criterion, even allowing for the risk of other duplications, this is worth the financial outlay. No lost masterpiece for sure but a beautiful reflective work that deserves to be better known both on disc and in the concert hall.

You can understand why the two Svendsen symphonies made such a stir - both were written at a time when Norwegian ‘Art’ music was not given much import in its own right. The first is a work of remarkable potential but it is the second, recorded here, that shows the composer at his considerable best. Again, it does not seek revelatory depths or profundity but as a thoroughly enjoyable work of great melodic beauty it is as satisfying a half hour’s music-making as any. Interestingly this is not Järvi’s first recording. He coupled the two Svendsen symphonies on a BIS disc played by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra as long ago as 1986. It makes for a fascinating comparison and one without an outright ‘winner’. Järvi in 1986 is nearly two minutes quicker than 2011 - every movement swifter to a varying degree. The BIS recording is predictably excellent too but less opulent than Chandos. The extra thrust in the earlier version of the first movement makes it more dramatic and exciting but the poetry of the second movement Andante Sostenuto is diminished and the Bergen clarinetist is a subtler player. Likewise the gentle Intermezzo third movement - one of those pieces that hovers on the edge of high class light music - benefits from the more benevolent incarnation of 2011. However, the final movement again gains from those little moments of adrenaline-driven drama that typified so many Järvi recordings from the 1980s. Also, the extra edge to the BIS sound allows the brass writing in the final pages to blaze through. If I had to choose one Järvi version of the symphony alone I would opt for the BIS version by the shortest possible head but that is a reflection of my stylistic preference.

I have not heard volume 1 of this particular series as it focused on a collection of Svendsen’s slighter works. With this second volume and the inclusion of the rare concerto and excellent Second Symphony it has clearly hit its stride. One assumes the third volume will include the First Symphony and the Violin Concerto. There is the infamous story that Svendsen’s actress wife threw the full score of a Third Symphony onto the fire in a fit of pique thus inspiring a similar scene in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler - now if Chandos could rediscover that work …?

There have been numerous other discs of Svendsen’s music - a three CD set from CPO with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra under Terje Mikkelsen (CPO 777 3722) covers the same repertoire as these Chandos discs but with the exclusion of the concertante works. Mikkelsen favours a generally broader approach and the recording while fully acceptable does not seriously challenge either BIS or Chandos on the technical front. Under the aegis of the Norwegian Cultural Council the Bergen Philharmonic recorded various pieces including the four rhapsodies conducted by Karsten Andersen. These can now be viewed as stop-gaps very much superseded by these newer discs. Elsewhere, the symphonies are often - indeed logically - paired including versions from Jansons in Oslo on EMI, Engeset in Bournemouth on Naxos and Rasilainen with the Norwegian Radio Symphony on Warner/Apex. Chandos are even in competition with themselves with Dausgaard and the Danish National RSO. I have heard none of those paired symphony versions for comparison. Certainly this is music admirers of traditional romantic symphonies and symphonic repertoire ought to know. That being the case, this hugely enjoyable disc of undemandingly appealing music presented in typically superb Chandos sound is an excellent place to start.

Nick Barnard, MusicWeb International Read less

Works on This Recording

1. Symphony no 2 in B flat major, Op. 15 by Johan Svendsen
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877; Norway 
2. Norwegian Rhapsody no 4, Op. 22 by Johan Svendsen
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1876; Norway 
3. Norwegian Rhapsody no 3, Op. 21 by Johan Svendsen
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1876; Norway 
4. Concerto for Cello in D major, Op. 7 by Johan Svendsen
Performer:  Truls Otterbech Mork (Cello)
Conductor:  Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: Norway 

Sound Samples

Norwegian Rhapsody No. 3, Op. 21
Norwegian Rhapsody No. 4, Op. 22
Cello Concerto, Op. 7: I. Allegro -
Cello Concerto, Op. 7: II. Andante -
Cello Concerto, Op. 7: III. Tempo I
Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 15: I. Allegro
Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 15: II. Andante sostenuto
Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 15: III. Intermezzo: Allegro giusto
Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 15: IV. Finale: Andante - Allegro con fuoco

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