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Fartein Valen Symphonies 2 & 3

Nenia Op. 18 No. 1 An die Hoffnung Op. 18 No. 2 Epithalamion Op. 19
Symphony No. 2 Op. 40
Symphony No. 3 Op. 41

Stavanger Symphony Orchestra / Christian Eggen


This important Norwegian composer (1887-1952 ) had disappeared from our awareness in UK since some fifty years ago when I remember being intrigued by his violin concerto.

On this finding, he is well worth being newly surveyed by BIS, which has a reputation for taking on particular composers and exploring their outputs thoroughly.

The three Op 18 orchestral pieces, written 1932-33, make a satisfying sequence. The idiom seems unremarkable to present day ears, with a strongly contrapuntal inclination and a language deriving from the expressionist music of Schoenberg and Berg. The symphonies, composed in the early '40s during the German occupation of Norway, where Valen lived reclusively on the family farm, have not previously come to attention. Valen is described by the conductor here as his own worst enemy - inclined to lose interest in a work after completing it in draft, leaving posterity with numerous practical problems.

Eggen has produced new, more reliable scores, and the project has been a labour of love. There are excellent commentaries on the pieces and movements of the symphonies, as is BIS's way, and the presentation is altogether illuminating. Valen specialist Arvid Vollsnes writes: ‘many of the movements are like gigantic fugues. They have a dynamic, rather than an architectural form even though we encounter sonata form, Lied form and rondos.’

Norway can seem to be musically the "poor relation" of Scandinavia, but standards there are high and we have recently become absorbed by recordings from the living composer Lars Thoresen (under the heading Musical Insularity) and the pioneering explorations of Nordic Voices.

Recommended as one not to pass by.

Peter Grahame Woolf