Scandinavian string-playing continues to gleam with virtuosity in this Norwegian round-up of what are effectively highlights of such repertoire in regional terms. Newer, however – and most welcome – are the searching, darker interpretative colours the ensemble now brings to much-performed music. These amount to a slap in the face for lazier listeners who – like Stravinsky about Grieg – believe that the icy landscapes often evoked by the music are stuffed with nothing more than sweet bonbons.
From earliest times – as Terje Tønnesen, the orchestra’s violinist director, recalls – the Holberg Suite was the NCO’s particular calling card. Their revised look at this score now pays especial attention to the serious aspects of this evocation of the great writer’s age, especially in the sadness of the fourth-movement Air – a case, perhaps, of less pastiche Bach and more Grieg. Similarly, the Prelude to Nielsen’s Little Suite is mined for all the darker, even sinister colours it can produce, while Sibelius’s Valse triste is profoundly sad without the merest hint of irony or self-pity.
Three items less familiar to non-Scandinavian ears provide contrasting not-so-sweetmeats. Enjoy particularly the 1917 Suite by Kurt Atterberg, long-serving patent officer, stalwart symphonist and winner (with his Sixth Symphony) of the Columbia Graphophone Company’s 1928 competition in homage to Schubert’s Unfinished. With obbligato roles for both leader Tønnesen and guest viola player Tomter, its three movements feature strong melodic hooks.
This cherishable, fresh look at this music was naturally (by which I mean, unglossily) recorded in the increasingly used modern Lommedalen Church.