ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Ole Olsen - Symphony No. 1

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OLE OLSEN - Symphony No. 1 - Trombone Concerto - Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra - Christian Lindberg (Trombone and Conductor) - Rune A. Halvorsen (Conductor for Concerto) - 7318599919683 - Released: June 2011 - BIS SACD1968

Norway has produced its share of noteworthy composers including Edvard Grieg, Christian Sinding, Johan Halvorsen, Johan Svendsen, Geirr Tveitt, Ole Bull, etc ... to name but those that instantly come to mind, and many more whose scores have unjustly been gathering dust in quiet and musty archive buildings. Ole Olsen (1850-1927) unfortunately, due to unwarranted neglect, seems to have been relegated to the dusty shelves. Hopefully this new recording, the one and only CD devoted solely to this composer's music, can act as a catalyst to alter the general opinion of his music.

Born in Hammerfest, situated 450 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, Ole Olsen has been described as the "World's Northernmost Composer". Contrary to the dark tones and somber colors associated with most Northern composers, Olsen's music is of a sunnier disposition and displays a finesse of orchestration that adds a fresh twist to the music from moment to moment. For example, the opening symphonic poem on this disc, Asgaardsreien, Op. 10 (The Ride of Asgaard) has a definite swashbuckling quality to it that well captures the character of the epic poem it's based upon. Bright orchestration and lively tempos drive the music along its narrative as if crafted by a master. It ends with a powerful splash of colors and orchestral splendour to match Rimsky-Korsakov.

The Concerto in F major for Trombone and Orchestra, Op. 48, here in its world première recording, is melodic fun from start to finish. Trombone concertos are usually austere affairs written to challenge the trombonist's skills more so than to please the audience, but not this one. It certainly contains some passages that place heavy demands upon the soloist, in this case the world class trombonist Christian Lindberg, but its the quality of the music this time that leads the way, and makes for a memorable experience.

Although his Symphony No. 1 in G major, Op. 5 suffers a bit from academia, it often bears moments of great originality, as in the passage for horns as early as the 00:17 mark of the opening movement. Again a strong melodic impulse drives the music forward at all times, helped at moments by a strong rhythmic momentum and colorful orchestration that constantly bounces from one corner of the orchestra to the next. Even the work's slow movement avoids the usual sadness and darker tones relished by composers from the North, and instead conveys its message through the clever use of flowing melodies that steer the imagination towards bucolic scenes. The end of the final movement caps the whole symphony in a flourish of colors and recap of motifs that brings everything to a stirring coda.

Needless to say again that the efforts of the people at BIS to unearth these forgotten works for us to discover and enjoy are greatly appreciated, especially when they are performed and recorded as well as this disc demonstrates.

Jean-Yves Duperron - August 2011