Having recently concluded his Halvorsen series, Neeme Järvi continues his Nordic project with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. This is Volume 2 in the survey of orchestral works by the Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen, a contemporary of Grieg.
In the Cello Concerto, the orchestration is perhaps more introvert than what we usually hear in Svendsen’s music. His Violin Concerto is in the conventional three movements, but here he experimented with the form and designed the concerto in just one movement, enclosing a slow section within a large-scale sonata-allegro structure. The work speaks to the poetic capabilities of the solo instrument, rather than relying on virtuoso passages, and in this respect it demands a cellist capable of bringing out the work’s subtle lyrical qualities. Charged with this task is the Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk, described by The Daily Telegraph as ‘a player of angelic grace and purity of tone’, whose discography spans from a Grammy-award-winning recording of Shostakovich’s Cello Concertos to a critically acclaimed recording of Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello.
Svendsen was the first really successful Norwegian symphonist. In fact, Grieg is said to have been so overwhelmed by Svendsen’s first symphony that he was persuaded to dismiss his own, and focus on more intimate genres. Svendsen’s second symphony is as optimistic and youthful as the first, yet perhaps more organically developed and less edgy. The second movement is one of Svendsen’s most captivating and deeply felt pieces, moving through several beautiful melodies to arrive at an intensified climax.
Svendsen also wrote four Norwegian Rhapsodies, of which Nos 3 and 4 are recorded here. The set as a whole draws on seventeen Norwegian folk songs and fiddle tunes. The composer picked most of them from Ludvig Mathias Lindeman’s collection Ældre og nyere norske Fjeldmelodier (Older and Newer Norwegian Mountain Melodies).