Hjellemo orchestral works sterling CDS1128

Ole Hjellemo (1873-1938)
Violin Concerto (1933)
Norwegian Caprice (Rondo) for violin and orchestra (1935)
Symphony No 2 in B minor (1922-26)
Christopher Tun Andersen (violin)
Makris Symphony Orchestra/Jørn Fossheim
rec. 2022, Zadužbina, Ilije Kolarca, Belgrade
STERLING CDS1128-2 [74]

A few words about this obscure composer might be helpful. He was born in the highlands of central Norway, the son of a tenant farmer who doubled as a tailor. At twenty, having taken up the violin, he left for Kristiana (now Oslo) to study music in the army which enabled him to take further studies with leading Norwegian musicians. Thenceforth he seems to have been a jobbing fiddler with first rank local orchestras but maintained his military connections until he retired in 1930. Concurrently he taught violin, harmony and composition at the Conservatory of Music from 1919-32, dying six years later. There’s a huge amount that remains conjectural about Ole Hjellemo’s early life but those are the bare bones, courtesy of Jørn Fossheim, the conductor of this disc, who has written the booklet notes too.

The Violin Concerto (1933) hadn’t been performed since 1934 until this recording. At 18 minutes it’s compact in the extreme and formally odd with a first movement longer than the other two combined. The violin pitches in from the start and begins a rather peripatetic journey, full of passagework but the thematic material itself is undistinguished and at 5:55 into the opening Allegro a cadenza seems undeserved, musically speaking. For the central movement Hjellemo recycled material from a still-unperformed String Quartet, and this provides more attractively ruminative-lyric writing for the soloist. The finale, though opening attaca, is very short and I can’t say I was fired up by the concerto.

Dating from a couple of years after the Violin Concerto, the Norwegian Caprice is an essay in folkoric charm for solo violin and orchestra. There is much pirouetting over a somewhat generic orchestral wash – strange, as Hjellemo had been brought up surrounded by distinctive highlands folk music – that manages to generate an open-air warmth.

His first symphony of 1912 had not been well received by the critics but over a decade later he produced a Second Symphony which was premiered in 1926. It opens with misty evocations and herd-girl chants in the winds, before the strings take over with their own song. Rich lower brass appear as the music develops. The second movement is another nature study, focusing on sunlight. Fortunately, there is also fulsome late-Romantic colour here and a slightly Straussian effulgence and sublimated Wagnerian rumbling. There’s a spirited Scherzo with a folksy B section that has expansive nobility – the best music in the symphony as far as I’m concerned – and a ‘homeward road’ finale with bravura and ripe transformative qualities; the music softens to Alpine verdancy and horn calls proliferate sinking to a contented close. There is a kind of scheme to the symphony which you might have guessed, as the composer left a detailed description of a mountain climb around which he fashioned the work.

The Makris Symphony Orchestra has rather wiry strings and has been somewhat boxily recorded. I can’t say it’s the most resplendent sound I’ve ever heard though there’s a certain honesty to it. In the violin works Christopher Tun Andersen adeptly follows his predecessor Johan Simonsen, who only died in 2003, and who was formerly the only man to have played the concerto.

The booklet art is an appropriate and attractive painting by Harald Sohlberg (1869-1935).

Jonathan Woolf

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music