Norwegian Violin Favourites (Bjarte Engeset/ Henning Kraggerud/ Razumovsky Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554497)
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The development of music in Norway owes much to the great violinist OleBull. Born in Bergen in 1810, he made his debut at the age of nine, takinglessons from violinists in his home-town who had themselves studied with Viottiand with Baillot, but profiting also from the folk-musicians that he heard.
Failing in his proposed studies in theology in Christiania, he found instead afield for his musical gifts, as a performer and as a conductor, while learningmuch from performers on the traditional Norwegian fiddle, the hardanger fiddle.
In the 1830s he moved to Paris, where he heard Paganini but aroused littleinterest himself. In Italy, however, he fared better, now employing techniqueshe had developed from his study of the hardanger, with modifications to thebridge of his instrument and the bow he used. The flatter bridge allowed moreeffective polyphonic performance, as did the curved bow he used. A return toParis brought wide acclaim and he continued to tour, now recognised as one ofthe great virtuosi of his time, at the same time drawing much attention to theculture of his own country. It was during a return to Bergen that he was ableto give encouragement to the young musician Grieg and persuade the boy'sparents to allow him a career in music. He died in 1880.
Ole Bull's colourful personality made a strong impression on all who metor heard him, influencing, it is said, even Ibsen's Peer Gynt, thatreflects in its title-role something of Bull's own character. He left a quantityof music, including compositions for the violin of such difficulty that otherplayers were likely to be deterred from attempting them. He occupies a uniqueposition in Norwegian cultural history. Among his compositions Sceterjentenss?©ndag ('The Herd-Girl's Sunday') remains among the best known, a folk-songused in his 1848 fantasia for strings, Et sceterbes?©g ('A Visit to theMountain Pasture').
Widely remembered by an earlier generation as the composer of Rustleof Spring, Christian Sinding was also trained as a violinist, studyingunder Schradieck at the Leipzig Conservatory, where he had composition lessonsfrom Jadassohn. He was a prolific composer, very much in the German lateRomantic tradition. His Suite im alten Stil ('Suite in the Old Style')was written in 1889 and opens with a toccata-like movement, followed by an Adagiothat has about it more of the Romantic than the Baroque. The final movementgives scope for technical display in a cadenza, the whole dominated by itsemphatic principal theme.
Ole Bull's La Melancolie is a transcription of his song Iensomme stunde ('In moments of solitude') transcribed for violin and pianoby the composer and subsequently arranged for string orchestra by JohanHalvorsen, testimony to its popularity. It is here given in an arrangement forsolo violin and orchestra by Henning Kraggerud.
Johan Svendsen enjoyed an early career as an orchestral violinist, afterservice in a military band as a clarinetist. Stranded in Germany in the courseof a concert tour as a violinist, he was rescued by a royal pension thatallowed him to study in Leipzig. There he turned hisattention more to composition, although his lessons with Ferdinand David hadgiven him some encouragement and allowed him also to take his turn as a conductor. It was principally as a composer and conductorthat he made his later career, in the latter capacity from 1883 as conductor of theRoyal Danish Opera in Copenhagen. Among his most popular works is his moving Romance,Opus 26, written during a period spent in the Norwegian capital ofChristiania in 1881.
The Norwegian violinist Johan Halvorsen studied first in Stockholm,before taking lessons with Adolf Brodsky in Leipzig, followed by further studywith Cesar Thomson in Li?¿ge. He served as conductor at the theatre in Bergenand subsequently at the National Theatre in Christiania. As a composer hecontinued the national tradition of Svendsen and of Grieg, and is rememberedwith particular gratitude by viola players for his challenging Handel arrangementsfor violin and viola of a Passacaglia and a Sarabande withVariations. His two Norwegian Dances, written in 1915, open with alively Allegro, its final harmonics capped by a gently lilting Allegretto, briefly interruptedby fiercer episodes. His Maiden's Song and Old Fisherman's Song breathean air of continued romantic melancholy.
Ole Bull's ViolinConcerto in E minor is dated February 1841. As always, the workoffered a very considerable challenge to other players, but the slow movement,arranged by the composer also for violin and piano, has enjoyed a separateexistence and provides a valuable addition to Romantic violin repertoire.
Halvorsen's WeddingMarch provides a contrast to Romantic melancholy, but the mood of intensefeeling returns with Grieg's Jeg elsker dig ('I love you alone'), anarrangement of a setting of words by Hans Christian Andersen, published in 1864under the title Hjertets melodier ('Heart's Melodies'). Halvorsen's Andantereligioso opens with a strongly felt orchestral introduction, before thelyrical entry of the solo violin. There is a more ominous central section, butthe serenity of the opening is restored before the work comes to an end. Thecollection of popular Norwegian violin pieces ends with one of the best knownworks of all, Grieg's Last Spring, the second of his two ElegiacMelodies, arranged from a song written in 1881. In its intensity of feelingit epitomizes the achievement of the greatest of all Norwegian composers.