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CD Review

The Long, Long Winter Night

  • Edvard Grieg:
  • Norwegian Folksongs
  • Norwegian peasant dances
  • Geirr Tveitt: Folk-tunes from Hardanger
  • David Monrad Johansen: Portraits
  • Fartein Valen: Variations
  • Harald Saeverud:
  • Tunes and Dances from Siljustol: Suite #2
  • Tunes and Dances from Siljustol: Suite #3
  • Tunes and Dances from Siljustol: Suite #4
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
EMI Classics 56541 DDD 68:13
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For me, this is the piano disc of the year thus far. EMI was smart to call it The long, long winter night – "Norwegian piano music" would have been a hard sell, even though that is exactly what this disc is about. As such, it is chock-full of discoveries, and so it is easy to recommend this disc, even to the collector who has (almost) everything.

For example, Grieg is represented not by his far better-known Lyric Pieces, but by excerpts from his Norske folkeviser (Norwegian Folk Songs) and Slåtter (Peasant Dances). The focus is on dancing, and on a charming athleticism to the rhythms and melodic counters. On the other hand, "I wonder deep in thought," one of the Norske folkeviser, presents a melody of moving simplicity, artfully arranged by the composer. It's not easily forgotten.

The rest of the composers on this disc were active solely in the present century. One striking discovery is a tour de force called "The father of the child," from Geirr Tveitt's Femti Folkatonar frao Hardanger (Fifty Folk Tunes from Hardanger). I'm not sure what this title refers to (a shortcoming of the annotations) but the piece's strange hymn-like harmonies and incipient violence suggest Viking spirituality. From the next set, David Konrad Johansen's Nordlandsbilleder (Pictures from Nordland), sample "Reindeer," a quirky portrait full of skittishness and mystery. Technically, it is very demanding, and Andsnes's playing here suggests that he is (or would be) excellent in Debussy.

I gather that "Ballad of Revolt," from Harald Sæverud's Slåtter og Stev fra "Siljustol" (Tunes and Dances from "Siljustol") plays a special role in Norwegian musical life. The composer wrote it to protest the German occupation of Norway, and it starts with a simple melody that might be a marching-song. Sæverud builds up to a thrilling, revolutionary climax that would get the audience roaring in any concert hall. There's also an example of the composer's "anti-Romantic" score for a production of Peer Gynt.

Finally, I need to mention the Variations for Piano of Fartein Valen. This is twelve-tone music, but not to worry – the demands are mostly on the performer. The introspective mood carries the listener through the piece's concentrated seven minutes.

Andsnes is a fabulous pianist. His technique is seemingly unlimited, and so is his imagination. Great idea, this CD. Don't hesitate to acquire it.

Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle