This is the fourth and final volume of colourful and highly appealing orchestral works by the Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen. The series is performed by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra under Neeme Järvi.
Based on the Passacaille (Chaconne) from the Harpsichord Suite No. 7 in G minor by Handel, Halvorsen’s Passacaglia is a virtuosic duo for solo violin and viola, later made world famous by artists such as Leopold Auer and Jascha Heifetz.
It starts as a simple arrangement of Handel’s original score, but after the presentation of the theme and the first three variations it gradually differs more and more, until it finally frees itself entirely from the original and becomes pure ‘Halvorsen’.
Halvorsen wrote extensively for the stage, and his lifelong fascination with ‘exotic’ elements in music is evident in the ‘Dance Scene’ from the incidental music to Knut Hamsun’s Queen Tamara, a historical play set in the Caucasus. In contrast, the Symphonic Intermezzo from the music to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s The King is presented in the style of a tone poem, its language strongly influenced by the musical universe of Liszt and Wagner.
Also on this disc is Halvorsen’s orchestration of Grieg’s piano piece Norwegian Bridal Procession. Other versions exist, among others by Frederick Delius, but in Grieg’s eyes only a native Norwegian could portray rural Norway in music without becoming too romantic or picturesque. Halvorsen’s lush, but non-idealising orchestration proved an immediate success, and at concerts and in the theatre over the next twenty-six years Halvorsen conducted the work at least 140 times.
Halvorsen considered his Norwegian Fairy Tale Pictures to be one of his best works. The suite is colourful and vividly programmatic, drawn from music that Halvorsen had written for a children’s comedy: violins portray the fairy tale hero, the flute plays the part of the abducted princess, while the villainous troll is represented by a motif in the bass.
“Best of all, I think, is the suite of Norwegian Fairy Tale Pictures derived from the music to Peik and the Giant Troll...Halvorsen's music here manages to combine evocations of the Hardanger fiddle, grumbling troll-motifs, the bracing open-air quality of the best Norwegian music and a brilliant sense of orchestral colour into an enchanting mixture. Even if it contains nothing of great importance, I've greatly enjoyed this disc.” International Record Review, May 2012
“Halvorsen was a natural tone-painter and story-teller...The Bergen Philharmonic under Jarvi once more provide beautifully idiomatic performances caught in rich Chandos sound...a musical delight.” Gramophone Magazine, July 2012
“Neeme Järvi throughout directs with rich and romantic warmth but no little rhythmic snap too, and the Bergen Philharmonic has been excellently recorded. Most enjoyable.” MusicWeb International, June 2012