Tveitt Hundred Hardanger Tunes Naxos 8.555770

Déjà Review: this review was first published in March 2002 and the recording is still available.

Geirr Tveitt (1908-1981)
Hundred Hardingtonar (A Hundred Hardanger Tunes), Op 151
Suite No 2 – Tunes 16-30 (Fifteen Mountain Songs)
Suite No 5 – Tunes 61-75 (Troll Tunes)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Bjarte Engeset
rec. 2001, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow
Naxos 8.555770 [72]

Don’t be alarmed, there are certainly not a hundred Hardanger tunes on this CD. In fact, there are just 30; all of them beautifully orchestrated. David Gallagher’s informative and witty booklet notes explain that there are four suites in all, each of fifteen tunes. These are numbered 1, 2, 4 and 5. Suite 3 is incomplete and there are sketches for Suite 6. Even so that still does not come to a hundred but never mind.

So what we have are two attractive orchestral suites which use Folk material from the Hardanger region of Western Norway where Tveitt lived, or which were composed in a folk style. It is impossible to tell which are which and it doesn’t matter, as the style of the music is consistent throughout.

Geirr Tveitt was amazingly prolific. He studied in Vienna and Paris with such composers as Honegger and Wellesz. He retained his strong emotional connection with an area of his native Norway where he spent many a childhood holiday and where he had seen at first hand the local instruments played and heard the local music. In 1942, he settled permanently with his family in the Hardangerfjord. The CD booklet has a lovely photograph dated about 1954 of the composer in local costume seated with an indigenous instrument, rather like a dulcimer.

Sadly a great deal of his music was lost in a tragic fire at this farmstead in 1970. Naxos has recently released the two Piano Concertos, and last summer, Suites 1 and 4 of the Hardanger Tunes. There are also, if you look carefully, discs of his piano music. Nevertheless, we shall never know the full extent of his considerable output.

The Hardanger melodies are peculiar to the area; due to the difficult terrain intercommunication between villages and towns was only possible in summer, so some tunes and stories were known only within particular families.

Unlike the Suites 1 and 4 mentioned earlier, the suites on this CD do not have a narrative running through them, but each piece in itself is almost a short story. Realising this, Tveitt gave Suite 2 the overall title ‘Fifteen Mountain Songs’ with individual titles like Mountain Cattle-Call. This is illustrated by gentle string melodies and solo flute. Mountain girl skiing downhill is depicted by a contra-bassoon introduction and a simple three bar melody repeated sixteen times, achieving a great climax.

The 5th Suite is entitled ‘Troll-tunes’ with titles such as ‘The Changeling’ (which might remind some listeners of Mussorgsky) and the closing, intimidating ‘Doomsday’ with its apocalyptic bells.

At times, I can hear that Tveitt knew Janacek well, especially in the brass writing. The spaciousness of the music can seem Coplandesque as David Gallagher remarks. I find also that I can hear where Harald Sæverud is coming from, and even, in the block harmonies, Jon Leifs. But one thing I can tell you for certain is that nowhere is the music reminiscent of Grieg.

Naxos here continue their excellent policy of using a conductor and/or orchestra from the composer’s country. This has happened whether the music is from Spain (Balada), America (Antheil), Britain (Bax) and I think that this is a very good idea. Of course, music is an international language and you are as likely to come across a superb performance of Elgar by an American or Dutch Orchestra as you are by a British orchestra. However, there is also a feeling that with music which is basically nationalist it is wise at least to find a conductor who is ‘in sympathy’ with the repertoire, especially when it is as rare as this. Bjarte Engeset cares for and loves this music. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra have a natural rapport with the music of the North. Between them, they coax this gorgeous music into shape without effort or artificiality. Highly recommended.

Gary Higginson

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