There's been some awfully funny British comedy about Norway over the years (John Cleese, Peter Cook, and probably others). One would think, from listening to it, that Norway was the most boring country on Earth. Nowadays, however, it's probably good to be boring. I'd gladly exchange some of my fears of terrorism for a little boredom, thank you very much!
Musically, Norway is a very rich country, and not at all boring. Edvard Grieg is her most famous composer, but by no means her only one of note. Back in the days of LPs, Philips released a fine series of music by Norwegian composers, and composers such as Johan Svendsen and Harald Saeverud are well represented on CDs today.
Naxos released a series of CDs devoted to "Swedish Orchestral Favourites," and now it seems poised to do the same for Norway. This is a great collection – an undemanding voyage to the land of the fjords where life seems to be much simpler. Grieg is represented by four pieces: "Morning Mood" and "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt, Norwegian Dance #2, and "The Last Spring," the second of the Two Elegiac Melodies. (This last work brings the CD to a melancholy close.) Bjarte Engesett plays the Norwegian Dance #2 in an orchestration that is slightly different than the one some listeners might be familiar with.
Speaking of orchestrations, Christian Sinding's Rustle of Spring is another popular Norwegian piece – but for piano. Its inclusion here in an effective (but uncredited) orchestral arrangement is welcome. The other internationally familiar work on this CD is Johan Halvorsen's Entry of the Boyars. "Boyars" actually were part of the Romanian aristocracy, and so it is a little comical that this was, at least at one time, a phenomenally popular Norwegian composition! It has fallen out of favor in the past few decades, but it's still a grand and festive march with instant appeal.
Many of these composers lived well into the 20th century – Johannes Hanssen died as late as 1967 – yet the music here is consistently tonal and conservative. There's plenty here to attract and interest the non-Norwegian listener. This is in no way a CD for a specialized market only.
Conductor Bjarte Engeset is Norwegian, and he is as capable and entertaining on the podium as he is writing this release's booklet notes. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra is a first-rate ensemble, and not just in the music of Iceland. (For further proof, try their Sibelius series with conductor Petri Sakari, also on Naxos.) Splendid engineering and a wallet-friendly list price make this another Naxos CD well worth exploring.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle