Norwegian violinist Ole Bull has received less attention than the other composer-virtuosi of the 19th century. Perhaps because a good portion of his activity took place in the United States, where less of a historical perspective on 19th century music-making has developed among performers. Bull was Norway's first real celebrity, and as a virtuoso he was something of a rock star, playing on the emotions of crowds in a way Sarasate, for example, did not. His reception in America resembled that given to opera stars like Jenny Lind and her successors. Bull was, to put it in modern terms, a character whose activities included the founding of a utopian community in the Allegheny mountains (its remnants are still there, maintained as Ole Bull State Park by the state of Pennsylvania). The musicological verdict has been that Bull's own compositions aren't up to the level of, say, Fritz Kreisler's, but Norwegian violinist Arve Tellefsen sets out to refute that view in this generous selection of 16 Bull works, plus a pair by Edvard Grieg that the two men are known to have performed together. American descriptions of Bull's concerts mention a work called Niagara for violin and orchestra that Bull himself proclaimed his best. That piece, remarkably, has been completely lost, but the album is full of music that must have been in a similar vein. Consider the over-the-top Et Saeterbesøg (A Mountain Vision), track 3, which brashly alternates among programmatic depictions of spectacular mountain scenery, folk tunes, and a sense of inner rapture at encountering the locale. Bull, as a traveling virtuoso, offered audiences his own takes on local music, and one laments the loss of his American pieces. But the "Grand March" from Agiaco Cubano (track 7) gives an idea. His music can be garish, but such works as the Saeterjentens Søndag (The Herd Girl's Sunday) reveal a talented, pure melodist, and it may be that Bull's music succeeds best in large doses like this, where you eventually end up giving yourself over to its extremes. Tellefsen is ideal in works like the Andante maestoso from Agiaco Cubano (track 12), where he puts across the mixture of melody and technical impossibility (the piece is an essay in double stops) that must have been what appealed to audiences so much in the 19th century. In more purely sentimental pieces, one sometimes wishes for a little less reserve, but this collection is an important one for anyone who enjoys or studies the culture of the Romantic virtuoso or the history of American music, presented in excellent super audio sound. Notes are in English and Norwegian.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Violin Concerto in E minor|
|Violin Sonata in F major|