Terje Mikkelsen / Latvian National Symphony Orchestra

Ole Olsen: Asgaardsreien; Symphony in G major; Suite for String Orchestra

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Norwegian composer Ole Olsen, seven years younger than Grieg, made a lukewarm impression when he presented one of his songs to the master. "Your song is not especially original," Grieg said, "not very deeply felt; but, performed with taste to an audience of elderly, benevolent, tea-drinking ladies, you should still be able to count on a modest amount of applause." Grieg apparently revised his opinion upward later, however, and steered toward Olsen commissions he himself was unable to fulfill. From the evidence here, Olsen was an indifferent symphonist, a modestly gifted composer of short programmatic pieces, and a very fine melodist in the lyrical-pastoral vein, where he absorbed lessons not only from Grieg but also from Wagner and developed a personal synthesis. The opening symphonic poem Asgaardsrein, Op. 10 (Asgaard's Ride), based on a Norwegian heroic-Romantic poem, has a lovely pastoral second theme, and some of the episodes in the theatrical piece titled Suite for string orchestra, Op. 60 (try the second movement, "Northern Lights and Ice Field"), have an almost static calm. The Symphony in G major, Op. 5, was Olsen's only essay in symphonic form, and aside from its lovely slow movement it's a rather pale essay, not helped by an enervated performance by the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra under Terje Mikkelsen. The SACD sound is a strong point, and the booklet, in Norwegian and unedited English, provides plenty of information for the program book of any orchestra that might excerpt these works, which are gorgeous in places.

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