Eivind Groven, The Norwegian Vaughan Williams

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Eivind Groven (1901-77) was the closest thing Norway got to a composer like Ralph Vaughan Williams. His music is saturated with the melodic and harmonic colorings of Norwegian folk music, and yet in these two symphonies he doesn’t quote any actual folk tunes. Rather, he has fully absorbed them into his personal idiom, which he expresses in traditional formal media. The two symphonies here were both conceived in the late 1930s, and while the First has four movements, and the Second three, there is very little difference between them expressively speaking. In other words, if you like one, you’ll like the other equally well.

Groven’s style is entirely melodic, very occasionally contrapuntal, and rhythmically dance-like (in quicker tempos). His scoring generally avoids extended passages for full orchestra. Rather, he uses small groups of instruments to color the evolving melodic line, which spins out one tune after another like a sort of loose improvisation, unified by recurring motives at strategic points. There is no appreciable tonal tension in the “sonata” sense of a dramatic push towards an ultimate goal, which means that the musical argument sounds more extended than it really is (and by that I don’t mean “boring”), and endings sometimes arrive with striking abruptness. Somehow, it all hangs together and retains a feeling of wholesome freshness.

The performances here are excellent: fluent and spontaneous, never static. Both symphonies have been recorded previously, and quite well too: the First on BIS (which I reviewed for ClassicsToday), the Second on Simax. Those previous recordings have different couplings, but it makes excellent sense to put the two symphonies, each lasting just under half an hour, together on one well-played, well-conducted, and well-engineered disc. Peter Szilvay and the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra deserve credit, then, for producing what now stands as the most essential single disc of Groven’s music.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

    Symphonies Nos. 1 "Towards the Mountains," and 2 "The Midnight Hour"

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