Halvorsen: Orchestral Works / Jarvi, Royal Philharmonic

Regular price $56.99
Added to Cart! View cart or continue shopping.
Reviews of the original recordings that make up this set:

Symphony no 1, Mascarade Suite Chandos 10584

It's good to see Neeme Järvi back on Chandos, working in top form, and it's even better to see the label starting a new project that promises to be delightfully worthy of collectors' attention and true to its roots in interesting Romantic repertoire. As a composer, Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935) is seriously underestimated, largely because most of his orchestral music falls into the category of theater or "incidental" music. A good bit of it, and much else besides, has been recorded by Simax, but those discs may be difficult to find (and costly too). It is, in any case, often music of very high quality, as the suite from Mascarade (same story as Nielsen's opera) clearly reveals.

The First Symphony, which dates from the 1920s but could have been written three or four decades earlier, reveals Halvorsen's ties to the school of the Russian "Mighty Five". If you enjoy, say, Borodin's Second, then you're going to love this immaculately crafted, tuneful, and melodically memorable piece. The other three pieces are brief "pops" numbers, but no less attractive or well-made. In short, there's not a note here unworthy of your time and attention, even the tiny La Mélancolie, an arrangement of an earlier tune by Ole Bull. As already noted, Järvi is back to his old exciting, vigorous self, and the orchestra plays with total commitment and enthusiasm. Great sound too. A terrific release.

– David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

Symphony no 2, Suite ancienne Chandos 10614

Johan Halvorsen spent most of his career writing for the theater, which is probably why his music sounds so effortless, colorful, and well, efficient. This isn't meant to be disparaging. Rather, all of these pieces get right to the point, and none outstays its welcome, not even the Second Symphony, which clocks in at a bit under half an hour. It's conservative, harmonically and formally, but the music really works--it's a pleasure from beginning to end, and wholly convincing. This performance also is the first to correct the zillion errors in the printed score that have gone a long way to preventing the work from entering the repertoire, where it surely belongs.

The other pieces are all, in one way or another, ostensibly Norwegian in sound in a manner quite similar to Grieg. Again, there's nothing wrong with that. What sane person dislikes Grieg? The Suite ancienne, to the memory of Holberg, has every bit as much charm and freshness as Grieg's Holberg Suite, while the other three pieces all feature solo violin. Marianne Thorsen plays splendidly, while Neeme Järvi leads his Bergen forces in performances that are graceful, vibrant, and in the Suite and the Symphony, the last word in impetuosity and excitement. With terrific sound, if you don't know this music, you're missing something special.

– David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

Symphony no 3, Black Swan, Wedding March, Wedding of Ravens in the Grove of the Crows

Johan Halvorsen is one of those composers whose music will have you asking why it’s not part of the standard repertoire. It’s that good. His Third Symphony is a pithy, three-movement work lasting a bit less than half an hour, full of good tunes, immaculately crafted and luminously scored. You can’t dislike it. Black Swan, the Wedding March, and the Wedding of Ravens in the Grove of the Crows are delightful miniatures. Norwegian music seems to be full of bridal marches, wedding processions, and the like, and it’s rather amazing that Halvorsen packs so much variety into what you might think would be an extremely restrictive genre. The incidental suites also have their share of wedding pieces.

Speaking of which, Fossegrimen (another classic Norwegian-themed play featuring trolls and other mythological creatures) contains some marvelous music in the folk style, some real, some invented, including extensive writing for the Hardanger fiddle. This performance includes the Danse visionaire, an independent work dedicated to Halvorsen’s wife (Grieg’s niece) that was part of the original incidental music but was later replaced by a newly composed piece. It’s good to have it here.

Finally, Bergensiana, billed as “Rococo Variations on an Old Melody from Bergen”, offers more than meets the eye, or ear. The tune may be old, but the scoring is fully modern, even radical. There’s a prominent variation featuring xylophone and bassoon, while another is given to the mandolin. Since they happen to be placed next to each other, the sound sample below offers a taste of them both, and they seem to encapsulate the combination of good humor and exquisite craftsmanship characteristic of Halvorsen. As with previous releases in this series, the performances are as good as it gets, and so are the sonics. There is absolutely nothing to criticize about Neeme Järvi’s interpretations, the fine Bergen Philharmonic, or the engineers. It’s just 79 minutes of terrific music.

– David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

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. Norwegian 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.

FANFARE: Robert Markow

This handsomely presented box gathers together four CDs all of which have been previously issued and glowingly reviewed on this site. … For those like myself who missed the original Chandos issues, this box is a most valuable survey of what probably constitutes as much of Halvorsen’s orchestral music as they will need to hear. The symphonies in particular reveal themselves as works of considerable merit. The playing of the Bergen orchestra and the recording quality are of the highest standard.

– Paul Corfield Godfrey, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 10834(4)

  • UPC: 095115183427

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Edvard Grieg, Johan Halvorsen

  • Conductor: Neeme Järvi

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Performer: Ilze Klava, Marianne Thorsen, Melina Mandozzi, Ragnhild Hemsing