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“Opus 250” – Works by BERG, ULVO, SÖDERLING and PAUS – Bergen Philharmonic Orch. – LAWO

“Opus 250” – Works by BERG, ULVO, SÖDERLING and PAUS – Bergen Philharmonic Orch. /Andrew Litton /James Macmillan/ Edward Gardner – LAWO Classics LC1089, 72:54 (11/27/15) [Dist. by Naxos] ****:

Contemporary music from Norway nicely recorded and expertly played.

In celebration of its 250th anniversary (!), the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra has undertaken an interesting project of commissioning and premiering more than 20 new compositions. Contemporary music has always been central to the orchestra’s tradition which, nearer the time of the orchestra’s founding, premiered works by Haydn and Beethoven. Opus 250 is the name of this project dedicated not only to the modern composers represented, but also to the musicians of the orchestra and particularly its own soloists.

The four works included on this CD are the result of efforts by the soloists themselves to inspire and collaborate with Norwegian composers with whom they particularly identify. Our readers aren’t likely to have heard any of the works on this disc, but that doesn’t render them uninteresting. In fact, the program is quite a fine survey of contemporary music.
The first work is Olav Berg’s Concerto for Viola and Orchestra. He says he based the piece on a dream, and the piece does have a dreamlike quality. At times wistful, at times dissonant, the Concerto is accomplished and dynamic. Next is Shadows and Shields, by Bergen composer Therese Ulvo. The piece at times sounds electronic, but actually it’s all done with the standard instruments of the orchestra. The third composition is called Horns in Landscapes by Ragnar Söderling. It reflects the dramatic Norwegian scenery and in its third section pays tribute to a hunt. It’s highly listenable, and the piece is, I think, the highlight of the CD.

Finally we have a Concerto for Tympani and Orchestra by Marcus Paus. It is the most dynamic of the works on the disc, and also a highlight. The piece emphasizes melody but also features the timpani in interesting ways and settings. The recording is quite good. There’s a stable image between the speakers, with a nice front-to-back depth. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra plays with precision and enthusiasm. Edward Gardner succeeded Andrew Litton as Chief Conductor of the orchestra in October 2015. They both conduct on this recording, along with the Scottish conductor and composer James MacMillan. As I said, you probably haven’t heard any of this music before, but don’t let that put you off. This is a well done recording of some fine music.

—Mel Martin

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