ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
JOHAN HALVORSEN - Orchestral Works Vol. 2


JOHAN HALVORSEN - Orchestral Works Vol. 2 - Neeme Järvi (Conductor) - Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra - 095115161425 - Chandos 10614

As mentioned in my earlier review of the Volume 1 in this series of recordings on this Norwegian composer, the music of Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935) is always fresh and uplifting. The composer he reminds me the most of is Franz von Suppé. The emotional content of most of the music is light, but with a very strong backbone of musical training as a violinist and conductor, the core of the music is always strong and bursting with good ideas and a solid structure which always yield interesting results. The CDs booklet notes actually reveal that "As a Kapellmeister, Halvorsen was able to write 'miles of theatre music', often in a very short period of time. On the other hand, he was strongly self-critical when composing music in more prestigious genres, and therefore actually destroyed a few of his major works before completing his first symphony at the ripe age of fifty-nine"

So even though his music seems pleasant and easy-flowing most of the time, you can tell that it got there not because of a lackadaisical work ethic, but by being scrutinized by a critical eye first, to assure the flow of ideas didn't get muddled anywhere. A perfect example of that is the Suite ancienne, Op. 31. The style is definitely old-fashioned and comfortably predictable, but with a fresh orchestral palette, dark colors and hints of romanticism, it is actually very exemplary of the time in which it was written. The same can be said about the Norwegian Dances, Chant de la Veslemöy and Air norvégien. And even though the main work on this CD, the Symphony No. 2 in D minor 'Fatum' deals with the serious subject matter of 'fate', somewhat like Beethoven's 5th and Tchaikovsky's 6th, it avoids the usual pitfalls of doom and gloom, again due to Halvorsen's masterful grasp of momentum. It is not a march to the scaffold like you would expect, but rather a march that defies fate and triumphs over it.

The team of Neeme Järvi, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Chandos have again given us an extended overview of this neglected composer, all of which performed and recorded with dedication and due diligence that should pull this composer out of the shadows where he never belonged in the first place.

Jean-Yves Duperron - October 2010