HALVORSEN Chamber Music
Thanks to Chandos, four discs of Halvorsen’s orchestral music have recently appeared, with one to follow. Johan Halvorsen, born in 1864, a generation after Grieg, was similarly a nationalist but one also wedded to the German tradition, as in his symphonies. Here two talented Norwegian artists, violinist Birgitte Stærnes and pianist Helge Kjekshus, host a group of colleagues in a sequence of Halvorsen’s chamber music, mostly of miniatures.
Some of these pieces have never been recorded before, like Crépuscule, the very first item, a charming genre piece. Elégie is similarly lyrical, while the Air norvégienne is longer, in varied sections, with a passionate climax and a witty conclusion. The Sarabande with Variations for violin and viola (Povilas Syrrist-Gelgota) takes a theme from Handel’s Keyboard Suite No 11 for a set of variations, neatly done.
The Little Dance Suite is just what it says, a sequence of genre pieces: gavotte, tarantella, waltz, Norwegian dance and Hungarian dance, all charming, as are the Concert Caprice and Visionary Dance. The Five Miniatures, Op 29, for two violins and piano are more sharply characterised, including the evocative ‘Procession at Night’, another minor-key elegy with cello joining the ensemble, and ‘A Norwegian Melody’, in compound time like a tarantella. That leads to a final virtuoso ‘Perpetuum mobile’, full of fun. The final Andante con moto is a piece that the violinist Birgitte Stærnes has herself completed to provide this first recording.
Needless to say, the writing for all these pieces reflects the fact that Halvorsen himself was a violinist who performed these works in his recitals. Altogether an attractive portrait of a composer understandably overshadowed by his great contemporary, Grieg.