Engaging, Powerful Ensemble Music from the North
Thomas F. Bertonneau | Oswego, NY United States | 10/08/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Norwegian string quartets? Why bother? Here's why. Although isolated from the rest of Europe and from the Transatlantic nations, Norway has enjoyed a rich musical life in the twentieth century; dozens of homegrown composers have produced a fascinating mass of symphonic, choral, and chamber music in all genres and in all styles. The works on the present anthology come mostly from the mid-century and employ an idiom, which while distinctively of the modern period, is nevertheless accessible to the listener. Hindemith is certainly an influence, and so perhaps is Bartók, but each of the composers represented in the program speaks in his own voice. Fartein Valen's (1887-1952) String Quartet No. 2 (1932) is at once the earliest and the most stylistically avant-garde work among the four. Valen worked in almost total solitude, creating his own type of modal serialism, expressed most rigorously in his symphonies but present, in its germ, in this three-movement ensemble work. The opening fugue is long-lined and darkly colored. The middle movement is, as described, "gracious." The Finale is a toccata, motoric and driven. Klaus Egge's (1906-1979) String Quartet No. 1 (1933) uses a more conventional language than Valen's, but Egge shares with Valen an interest in baroque procedures, so that his third movement (of four) is a fugue. Egge's music shows more direct influence of Norwegian folksong than Valen's. There are beautiful melodies in this quartet. Johan Kvandal's (1919-1999) String Quartet No. 3 (no date given, but written in the mid-1960s) makes use of the medieval ballade "De to søstre," with its grim story of jealousy and betrayal, and the music reflects the tale's tragic atmosphere. Alfred Janson's (born 1937) String Quartet (1976-78) is the slightest work here but enjoyable for all that. The Oslo Quartet gives intense performances of all this music. Naxos's sound is clear and natural. Anyone who enjoys the quartets of Hindemith, Bartók, or Shostakovich will assuredly find much that is congenial in this low-priced issue."
Thoughful music you've probably never heard before
vic spicer | 03/13/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"i am usually adverse to buying compilation CD's; now this one has made me hungry for more naxos issues of work by these composers.while i enjoyed all the compositions, the string quartet by alfred janson was most striking- the shimmering simplicity and vast silences worked beautifully."