Scandinavian Wind Quintets (Halldor Krogh/ Oslo Wind Ensemble) (Naxos: 8.553050)
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Scandinavian Wind Quintets
John Fernström (1897 - 1961)
Wind Quintet, Op. 59
Finale - Rondo: Vivace
Johan Kvandal (b.1919)
Wind Quintet, Op. 34
Adagio ma non troppo
Three Hymn Tunes, Op.23b
Our Lord is Faithful in Life and Death
(Vor Gud er tro i liv og død)
Praise to the Lord
(Lover nu Herren)
The Price is Greater
(Det koster mer end man først betenker)
Carl Nielsen (1865 - 1931)
Wind Quintet, Op. 43
Allegro ben moderato
Tema con variazioni
The Swedish composer John Axel Fernström was born in 1897 in Ichang, in China, where he spent the first ten years of his life at his father's mission station. In 1913 he entered the Malmö Conservatory and from 1916 until 1939 served as a violinist in the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, of which he was manager from 1932 and director of student concerts. As a violinist he had had further training as a pupil of Max Schlüter in Copenhagen and with Issay Barmas in Berlin and between 1923 and 1930 studied composition with Peder Gram in Copenhagen and in 1930 at the Sondershausen Conservatory, where he had his training as a conductor. From 1939 to 1941 he was conductor of the Malmö Radio Orchestra and from 1948 until his death in 1961 he was director of the conservatory and conductor of the symphony orchestra in Lund. In 1950 he founded the Nordiska Ungdomsorkestem (Nordic Youth Orchestra) and was also conductor of various choirs, including the Lunds Kvinnliga Studentkör. In 1953 he became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy. His study of painting in Paris led to a number of fine works in this medium, while, as a composer, he wrote twelve symphonies and three operas, two on ancient Egyptian subjects and the third a version of Calderon's La vida es sueño and, among many other works, settings of Songs of the Sea, with words taken from Tennyson, Wordsworth, Shelley and Thomas Moore.
Fernström's Wind Quintet, Opus 59, was written in 1943 and bears witness to his own description of his music at this time as generally tonal, classical in form, if eclectic in its attempt to provide a synthesis of contemporary styles. The first movement of the quintet opens with a single angular melodic line, at once imitated by clarinet and then by oboe and bassoon in a predominantly contrapuntal texture. The slow movement unwinds in similar fashion, as the strands of melody are interwoven. A more agitated accompaniment in the central section is followed by a return to the long-drawn melodic line and contrapuntal texture, with its Baroque imitations and suspensions. The mood changes as the flute introduces the brief Scherzo, with its contrasting central section. The quintet ends with a final Rondo, introduced in the same contrapuntally imitative fashion and containing material of some variety.
Johan Kvandal, born in Oslo in 1919, is a son of the composer David Monrad Johansen. He studied the organ and conducting at the conservatory in his native city, with lessons in theory and composition from Geirr Tveitt, before continuing his study of composition with Joseph Marx in Vienna and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. His years in Paris, from 1952 to 1954, were of particular importance, allowing him a closer knowledge of the work of Bartók, the later compositions of Stravinsky and the compositions of Olivier Messiaen. This led to the development of his own musical language that Kvandal has described as modern tonality, after an earlier period in which he followed the prevailing current of nationalism. From 1959 to 1974 he served as organist at Vålerengen Church in Oslo. In addition to his work as a critic, he has served in an honorary capacity in a number of Norwegian musical organisations.
Kvandal started writing his Wind Quintet, Opus 34, in Berlin, continuing it in Hamburg and completing it at home in Norway in 1971, when it was given its first performance in Oslo. The composer tells us that the work was written for the Oslo Wind Quintet, for a token payment of 25 bottles of red wine. The first of the four movements is a Preludium, marked Largo and contains a theme that assumes later importance. This slow introductory movement moves, without a break, to a stormy Presto in free-rondo form, containing, at its heart, a folklore motif played in the high register by the flute. The third movement is a passacaglia with five variations. The coda brings back the first movement theme and this serves as a point of departure for the final rondo, which again includes an episode of folk inspiration and a fugal section. The whole work ends with the triumphant three final major chords.
Kvandal's Three Hymn Tunes, Opus 23b, were written for broadcasting in 1963. Two of these folk hymn-tunes, the first and the third, are from Gudbrandsdalen and the second from Nordfjord. The melodies themselves are modal, but harmonized with some daring.
The Danish composer Carl Nielsen, the leading composer of his generation in Denmark, was born in 1865, the son of a painter and village musician. As a child he had practical experience in local music-making and in 1879, after learning to play the cornet, he joined a military orchestra at Odense and by 1884 had been able, with the help of sponsors, to enter the Royal Danish Conservatory in Copenhagen as a student of violin, piano and theory. After graduation in 1886 his compositions began to win a hearing, with a significant success in 1888 for his Opus 1 Little Suite for strings. The following year he became a violinist in the royal chapel, broadening still further his musical experience and in particular his knowledge of the music of Wagner, a subject of his serious study in Germany in 1890. Here he began the first of his six symphonies, completed in 1892. His work as a player in the royal chapel continued until 1905, followed by a growing demand for his services as a conductor, particularly of his own works, while a state pension allowed him to turn from teaching, a hitherto necessary means of survival, to concentrate on composition. Nielsen's work as a composer includes two operas and a number of orchestral works beside his six symphonies, with concertos for violin and for clarinet. To choral works and songs may be added three published string quartets and three violin sonatas, as well as a relatively small amount of music for the piano, an instrument that he had first taught himself as a young bandsman. His musical language, as demonstrated in the symphonies, is idiosyncratic and individual, essentially tonal, but covering an extended range of keys within a tonal system, with a cogent use of rhythms that adds impetus to an idiom that is, in some ways, a reaction against romanticism, while extending post-romantic harmonic, melodic and rhythmic vocabulary.
Nielsen's Wind Quintet, Opus 43, a more familiar work, was written in 1922. Here the composer demonstrates his practical acquaintance with the instruments for which he is writing. It opens with an appealing Allegro, introduced by the bassoon and showing an idiosyncratic use of thematic and accompanying motifs which at times seem to foreshadow Stravinsky in neo-classical mood. The second movement is a Menuett, with a melody of classical contour and contrapuntal accompaniment. It is followed by a Præludium, a brief and poignant Adagio, leading to a final theme, a hymn