FINN MORTENSEN: Symphony, Op. 5 – Stavanger Symphony Orchestra/ Peter Szilvay – SSO Recordings 3917, 37:20 *****:
Oslo native Finn Mortensen (1922 – 83) was a Norwegian composer who started off destined for his father’s publishing firm. Instead, he ended up studying piano and double bass at the Oslo Conservatory of Music, after studies in composition with Klaus Egge and Niels Viggo Bentzon at the Royal Danish Academy. Considering the times, perhaps it was destiny that took him to the Darmstadt summer school, and to the classes conducted by Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Studio für Elektronische Musik in Cologne.
From about 1950 to 1953 his music reflected a variety of styles prevalent at the time, including neoclassicism and a rather soft post-romanticism. After 1953, he turned to a stricter 12-tone, quasi-serialist technique that also involved elements of aleatoric composition. Though he is played often in Norway today, most of his music is forgotten in the concert hall, in the same manner faced by many of the atonalists of that era (though there are a decent number of recordings available of his work), except for the more famous exponents, still studied and quoted more than listened to.
His Symphony is perhaps the last of his tonal adventures before the serialist bug took hold. Fortunately, it is a whopping success. In fact, though I have never heard it before now, it strikes me as one of the most important and well-crafted works of the era, an ethereal reflection of a bygone time that knew far too few masterpieces of its type. It has Brucknerian qualities that move the soul, lonely and deserted soundscapes that will send shivers down your spine, and a sadness that bespeaks farewell to the tonal genre—at least for a while.
The playing of the Stavanger Symphony is first rate, an obviously committed performance of rare integrity and devotion, all captured in vibrant and impressive sound. Though the playing time is, granted, short, you can get in for about eleven bucks, and each dollar is well worth it. There are other recordings, and I can’t vouch for them, but this one will serve you well.
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