Classical Music Review: New Releases

Geirr Tveitt - Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 5. Piano Concerto No. 1 in F major, Op. 1;  Piano Concerto No. 5, Op. 156. Håvard Gimse, piano; Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Bjarte Engeset, cond.  Naxos 8.555077 (52'10).

Geirr Tveitt (1908-81) was, along with Harald Sæverud (1897-1992), the most important Norwegian composer of his generation.  Sæverud was the more outward looking of the two composers -- Lorentz Reitan writes that he never used a folk tune in his music -- while Tveitt collected and used them obsessively.  Indeed his most popular surviving collection of music, the Hardanger Tunes, consists of straight-forward transcriptions of folksongs.  Unfortunately, Tveitt's achievement is difficult to assess since so little of his prolific output survived a fire in his home in 1970 (of a corpus of over 300 works, around 90 are known to have survived).

Given Tveitt's reputation as a folklorist, the two piano concertos recorded here have a surprisingly cosmopolitan flavor.  The Piano Concerto No. 1 (1927) written when Tveitt was a 19-year-old student in Leipzig is a remarkably assured work  There's a touch of Rachmaninov in the swelling finale, but the quiet coda is ineffably Norse. The work opens quietly as well with a haunting modal tune introduced by the piano with minimal accompaniment.  Some intensely beautiful passages follow as the horns and woodwinds trade phrases with the piano.  The central movement is a fleet, dancing scherzo centered on a cadenza which is finally overwhelmed by a rhythmic conclusion.  The work has a compact, arch-like structure, suggesting the influence of Bartók, although Tveitt's idiom is much less radical.

The Piano Concerto No. 5 (1954) dates from a period when Tveitt was living in Paris and touring the world as a conductor and soloist.  It's a tuneful and dramatic work, a real crowd pleaser; however,  it suffers from an overreliance on neo-Romantic clichés.  The first movement opens with a quotation from the "Uranus" movement of Holst's Planets.  Several other themes, some quite interesting, are introduced and then explored by the soloist, but the movement fails to cohere.  Fortunately, the second movement, entitled Dance aux campanules bleues (The dance of the bells in the Blue [Mountains]) finds Tveitt in a more characteristically Norse mode.  Monothematic, ethereal, and concise, the movement is everything one would hope for from the composer of the Hardanger Tunes.  The finale, based on folk dances, returns to the heterogeneity of the first movement. This time it is far more successful, perhaps because of the distinctive rhythms that propel it.  I imagine the piece would work better in the concert hall where its showiness would be more effective.

Håvard Gimse is an excellent soloist, maneuvering his way through the Fifth Concerto's thorny Rachmaninoviana with ease.  At times the Royal Scottish National Orchestra sounds a bit complacent and tired, but overall they provide solid support.  This is an interesting release for anyone who has been seduced by the magicof the Hardanger Tunes and would like to discover other facets of Tveitt's talent.

-Tony Gualtieri
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