Terje Mikkelsen

Johan Svendsen: Symphonic Works

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Johan Svendsen: Symphonic Works Review

by James Leonard

Johan Svendsen is Norway's second best Romantic composer. How could it be otherwise when Norway also boasts Edvard Grieg as one of its own? Nevertheless, Svendsen is a fine composer who, though he may lack Grieg's supreme gifts for melody and harmony, still has nearly as much skill in orchestration and arguably more skill in handling large forms. This three-disc set from CPO with Terje Mikkelsen leading the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra includes all Svendsen's extant symphonic music save his concertos: his two symphonies, his four Norwegian Rhapsodies, and his eight symphonic poems and occasional pieces. Although the symphonies have been successfully recorded many times in the past -- one thinks of Mariss Jansons' superbly molded EMI recording and Thomas Dausgaard's spirited Chandos recording -- Mikkelsen's readings are as strong, as individual and as convincing as the others. Indeed, one might even argue that in terms of power and sophistication, they even out perform the others. There seems to be more to Svendsen in Mikkelsen's hands, more force in the Allegro con fuocos, more depth in the Andante sostenutos, and more energy in the Molto Allegros. The competition is less fierce in the remaining works, and Mikkelsen and the Latvian orchestra come through with flying colors. Indeed, colors is the crucial word: the dark hues of the Andante funèbre, the brilliant lights of Norwegian Artist's Carnival, and especially the pastoral shading of the Norwegian Rhapsodies have rarely been so well represented in recordings. Captured in vibrant digital sound by CPO, this set should be heard by any fan of nineteenth century Scandinavian music.

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