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SONG OF NORWAY
on 16 April 2005
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.