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Svendsen's first symphony impressed Grieg so much that he withdrew his own symphony. It's a fairly lightweight effort, but thoroughly professional in every way, and it shows a melodic gift that seems to me natural, genuine and spontaneous. I find nothing particularly Norwegian about it, which is not surprising as Svendsen had been trained in Leipzig. The second is much more attention-catching, with greater distinctiveness in both the themes and the scoring. This time there does seem to be a Norwegian flavour in the intermezzo, at least as I would understand 'Norwegian' from Grieg. The liner-note claims to detect some influence of Wagner in it, but frankly I doubt that. Like the earlier work, it is easy listening in a major key, cheerful and outgoing in expression for the most part but with a greater sense of depth in its first movement. Neither piece makes any great demands on the listener, and both make a thoroughly welcome change from the familiar repertory of late-romantic symphonies.
The performances strike me as admirable in every way, with accomplished orchestral playing and well-judged speeds throughout. The recording is faithful and clear. It would have benefited from being a little more 'forward', I felt, but there is no real problem with it. There is a helpful and informative liner-note with a useful potted biography of the composer and brief notes on both orchestra and conductor.
I take the opportunity, not for the first time, to thank Naxos for the enterprise they are showing in making such unfamiliar music available to us at such modest cost. I like to support projects like this and I hope they receive the backing they deserve from the musical public. This is music to be enjoyed, with no caveats or complications.
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This Naxos CD was released back in 1998, and features recordings made in 1997 by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bjarte Engeset of Johan Svendsen's two symphonies; it is an altogether excellent disc.

Svendsen (1840-1911) was a contemporary and lifelong friend of perhaps the greatest Norwegian composer Edvard Greig. Greig is very much a minaturist, what with his songs and piano works, whereas Svendsen tended to write in larger forms, such as these two symphonies; he was also a noted conductor. These two works are very much in the Romantic mainstream; if you like Mendlessohn and Schumann, you are sure to enjoy Svendsen. One writer (I forget whom) put it like this: "Fusing the legacy of the Viennese classics with the Norwegian folk tradtion" - many thought Svendsens tunes were taken from Norwegian folk songs, but they were all original creations.

Svendsen's Symphony 1 Op.4 comes from 1867 and is a much stronger work than Greig's own modest symphony (that he supressed at the time), but seemingly fortells some of Greig's later larger works. Symphony 2 Op.15 comes from around 1874 and closes with quite a romp.

Although the sound on this Naxos CD is a little reverberant and it is best played at a reasonable level, the sonics are perfectly acceptable. An excellent introduction to this composer.

Svendesen did write other orchestral music and a good sample can be found on a Virgin Classics CD Svendsen - Orchestral Works, which is now hard and expensive to find. His symphonic poems are also available on a Simax CD Selmer; Svendsen - Symphonic Poems, which I have not heard, but has received good reviews.

Highly recommended!
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on 30 June 2010
Thoroughly enjoyable performances by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's players who seem to find this composer's music as attractive as may many listeners. A bonus of reasonably generous playing time of the CD - over 70 minutes - and typically good
quality in recording - this is another fine bargain from Naxos, as the previous reviewer rightly noted - in fact, reading his enthusiastic, detailed, positive review encouraged me to buy the CD (thank you Mr Bryson).

For those who might wish to hear more of Svendsen's music, several folk song arrangements by him appear on the Naxos CD entitled "Scandanavian String Music". That disk includes also some very pleasant works by other composers, notably the Serenade of Dag Wiren.
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on 17 August 2013
I had not heard of this composer before but when I heard an extract on ClassicFM I felt I would like to know more so I purchased these two symphonies. Whilst they are not stunning they make for very pleasant listening and the purchase was worthwhile.
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on 30 March 2013
Again like Alfven musical works these are not the most outstanding musical works but they are easy to listen to, they do not push the boundaries of music neither are they experimental but they are pleasant as almost background music.
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on 28 October 2013
Svendsen is to the symphony as Grieg is to the musical miniature, certainly in Norwegian terms, The music has a classical freshness which evokes Scandinavia. It's worth a listen.
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on 27 January 2016
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