HALVORSEN Symphony No. 3. Black Swans. Wedding March. Wedding of Ravens in the Grove of the Crows. Fossegrimen. Bergensiana • Neeme Järvi, cond; Ragnhild Hemsig (Hardanger fiddle); Marianne Thorsen (vn); Bergen PO • CHANDOS 10664 (80:32)
HALVORSEN Norwegian Rhapsodies: No. 1; No. 2.Read moreNorwegian Bridal Procession. Passacaglia. Queen Tamara: Dance Scene. The King: Symphonic Intermezzo. Norwegian Festival Overture. Norwegian Fairy Tale Pictures • Neeme Järvi, cond; Melina Mandozzi (vn ); Ilze Klava (va); Bergen PO • CHANDOS 10710 (72:53)
Has any conductor done more to promote lesser-known but deserving composers than Neeme Järvi? Now he’s into the Norwegian Johan Halvorsen, with four volumes to his credit so far on Chandos. Here we have Volumes 3 and 4. James A. Altena was not particularly enthusiastic about Volume 1 (“a mildly appealing diversion,” he wrote in Fanfare 34: 1), but Barry Brenesal was considerably more taken with Volume 2 in 34:4 (“definitely recommended and I’m looking forward to the third volume”). Well, Barry, you’ll be pleased to know that not only is Volume 3 available, but Volume 4 has just come out as well. Both contain wonderful music, wonderfully played.
Volumes 1 and 2 each featured one of Halvorsen’s three symphonies. Volume 3 opens with the Third. On the basis of the first movement alone, one might be induced to put the disc aside. A lovely, forlorn oboe solo introduces the symphony, but the remainder of the movement is rather empty, bombastic, perhaps reminiscent of second-rate Glazunov. However, the two remaining movements are a sheer delight—a lushly orchestrated central movement that rises inexorably to a grand climax and a third movement grander still, bringing to mind the symphonies of Elgar in its rich counterpoint, energetic spirit, and sense of purpose pursued and attained.
The symphony is followed by five shorter works, all worthy of attention. Two of them, both evocations of birds, are billed as premiere recordings. Black Swans is a quasi-Impressionist miniature of darkly oppressive character while Wedding of Ravens in the Grove of the Crows is a theme-and-variations set for strings, based on a hauntingly beautiful Norwegian folk melody (Grieg arranged it also as one of his op. 17 piano pieces). The wan, nostalgic melody alone is memorable, but what Halvorsen does with it makes the Wedding a miniature masterpiece.
The 10-minute Bergensiana is another variation set. Its subtitle reads “Rococo Variations on an Old Melody from Bergen,” but Øyvin Dybsand writes in his program notes that the tune is in reality probably a minuet by Lully. The six variations take the listener on a whirlwind journey to various lands, with a triumphant return to Bergen at the end (the tune constitutes the city’s anthem, and Halvorsen’s work opens the annual Bergen International Festival). The Wedding March is another highly attractive miniature. It sounds more like a celebratory dance than a march, but its tune is irresistible. The solo violin part is handled with high spirit and panache by Marianne Thorsen.
The real showpiece of Volume 3 is the suite of incidental music Halvorsen wrote for Sigurd Eldegard’s troll play Fossegrimen (1905), which Dybsand describes as “one of the most-performed plays ever on Norwegian stages.” The title character is the “mythical music master of all underground creatures,” a kind of Norwegian Paganini who, according to legend, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for remarkable musical ability. His instrument is of course the violin, in this case the traditional Hardanger fiddle, which plays a prominent role in the proceedings. As Dybsand tells us in his extensive and outstanding notes, Halvorsen played the instrument himself and spent his honeymoon with Grieg’s niece in the Hardanger region of the country, where he became intimately familiar with the fiddle and its repertory. In his music for Fossegrimen, Halvorsen for the first time ever combined the Hardanger fiddle with symphony orchestra. Halvorsen’s 30-minute suite combines the colorful orchestration of Rimsky-Korsakov, foot-tapping themes of national character, splendidly atmospheric writing for the fiddle, and engaging melodies.
Volume 4 continues the pleasures to be found in Volume 3. The main work in 4 is again a suite of incidental music for a troll play, Peik and the Giant Troll, which Halvorsen arranged into the Norwegian Fairy Tale Pictures. These include a stirring introduction, a languid waltz, an elegantly gliding number that might elsewhere have served as carousel music except that it is scored with the skill of a Johann Strauss (delicate bells, solos for violin, clarinet, oboe, etc.), and troll music scary enough to make those creatures in Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King sound almost benign (Halvorsen’s trolls inhabit a Blue Mountain). Conductors looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous Peer Gynt suites might well take a look at Halvorsen’s Fairy Tale Pictures. The composer considered this to be one of his finest compositions, and of those represented on these two programs, I concur.
Also in Volume 4 we have a seven-minute orchestral interlude brimming with dramatic intensity (part of the incidental music for Bjørnstherne Bjørnson’s play The King); the orientally tinged dance from Queen Tamara (a play based on the same character as in Balakirev’s symphonic poem); the splendidly festive Norwegian Festival Overture; the two Norwegian Rhapsodies featuring a very capable soloist, violinist Melina Mandozzi; and the stately Norwegian Bridal Procession. If the latter sounds very much like Grieg, it should—it is an orchestration of a piano piece from his op. 19, also used in Peer Gynt. The only piece on these two discs that most listeners are likely to know already is the Passacaglia for Violin and Viola, which has been recorded innumerable times over the years (by Heifetz and Primrose, among others).
Halvorsen was born in the same year as Richard Strauss (1864) and lived almost as long. Unlike Strauss’s, however, Halvorsen’s music remains rooted in 19th-century Romanticism, much like Rachmaninoff’s. It is invariably well crafted and often inspired. At its best, as in the dance from Queen Tamara, the Fairy Tale Pictures, or the Third Symphony, it ranks with the best of Grieg. On both discs the Bergen Philharmonic is in fine form, Järvi provides consistently committed leadership, Øyvin Dybsand gives us model program notes, and Chandos delivers engineering as crystal-clear and energizing as those legendary Norwegian mountain streams and waterfalls. Are there further volumes in the works? There’s still a fair amount of material to draw upon, including a violin concerto and a large repertory of incidental music. The latter includes no fewer than four Shakespeare plays. I for one look forward to more of Halvorsen’s fine music.
The King: Intermezzoby Johan Halvorsen Conductor:
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Chandos Does It Again- Wonderful!!September 25, 2012By Henry S. (Springfield, VA)See All My Reviews"This is the fourth volume in Chandos' anthology of orchestral works of Johan Halvorsen. As in the earlier 3 volumes, Neeeme Jarvi leads the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in a legitimate world class performance, in this case presenting 8 individual works varying in length from 4 to 18 minutes. The program is, of course, pure Norwegian(e.g.-Norwegian Rhapsodies 1 and 2, Norwegian Bridal Procession, Norwegian Festival Overture, Norwegian Fairy Tale Pictures). Lighter fare perhaps, but played with passion, love, power,and intimate understanding by this very excellent orchestra. I strongly recommend this recording to one and all. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Halvorsen, this is THE perfect introduction to a composer who clearly merits wider attention. There is more to Norwegian classical music than Edvard Grieg,and this disk strongly proves my point."Report Abuse
Buy it!May 23, 2012By Robert S. (Davidsonville, MD)See All My Reviews"Rich , melodic music. All four volumes in this series are highly recommemded."Report Abuse