It is not every day new symphonic poems surface, and certainly not from Norway. Simax can present World Premiere Recordings of music by Johan Svendsen and Johan Selmer, enthusiastically performed by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Johan Svendsen (1940–1911)
Known in his own time as a violin virtuoso and one of the great maestros, Johan Svendsen is today regarded as the greatest writer of symphonic music from Norway. His Sigurd Slembe was inspired by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s drama (1863), taking place in the early parts of the 12th century about the Norwegian pretender to the throne. This work heralded a new period in Svendsens career in which he gave his works descriptive titles, or even entire programmes. The only work on this release which is not a premiere recording is Zorahayda, Svendsen’s famous masterpiece which was written after he became friends with Richard Wagner in Bayreuth (1872). Zorahayda is a Moorish princess being held captive by forces of evil, and only a Christian baptism can release her. Listening to the music with the text at hand it is not difficult to follow the rushing waters as Zorahayda rises from the fountain; the baptism scene with its modal, hymn-like chords is a wonderfully evocative piece of writing. Between these two realistic events Zorahayda recounts her sad tale.
Johan Selmer (1844–1910)
Today virtually unknown; Johan Selmer studied music in Paris. Because of his active part in the Paris Commune he was forced to flee the city in 1871 for further studies in Leipzig. Even in these more conservative surroundings he continued to compose music under inspiration of Berlioz. Carnival at Flanders is closely related to Symphonie Phantastique – with a masterly transformation of the lovers’ theme from tender sentiment to ramtant derision. The Prometheus is Selmer’s magnum opus, inspired by Max Klinger’s eponymous series of paintings. Almost as if following the stage directions for a play, Selmer illustrates in music the actions of the printed programme – which the audience was meant to be able to follow – in detail, employing unusual orchestral techniques.
The Norwegian orchestral tradition
The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra is renown for recordings of Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Mahler and Brahms. The participation of such an artist in the Nordic Edition series of premiere recording of Scandinavian repertoire is highly delightful – bringing top performances of music hitherto unheard.