OLE OLSEN: Asgaardsreien Op.10; Symphony in G Op. 5; Suite for string orchestra, Op. 60 – Latvian National Symphony / Terje Mikkelsen – Sterling multichannel SACD CDS 1086-2, 68:31 [Distrib. by Qualiton] ****:
Following hot on the heels of the release of an SACD of orchestral music by Eyvind Alnæs, the same forces contribute to an equally satisfying collection of music by another Norwegian Romantic, Ole Olsen (1850-1927). Olsen was born in Hammerfest in the extreme North of Norway, living later in Trondheim and then making a living in or near Oslo. Composer, organist, and nearly a trained clockmaker, too, Olsen’s music was inspired by his training in Leipzig and, from the examples on this disc, perhaps by his friendship with Grieg, who was just seven years older. The extensive and interesting essays accompanying this release quote an early view of Grieg’s on one of the younger composer’s songs, a put-down which would have crumpled a less confident personality!The programme opens with Asgaardsreien (The Ride of Asgaard), a symphonic poem dating from the last quarter of the 19th century, and whose revised version was dedicated “to his friend Edvard Grieg”. Based on a poem by Welhaven, the work tells of riders through the skies at night and uses Norwegian folk idioms as well as a somewhat Lisztian ethos. Nicely orchestrated, this is one of Olsen’s better known works.
The Symphony, an extensive work of forty minutes, was first performed in 1878, and by all accounts was well-received. Although the construction of each movement is quite simple, the ideas and orchestration are rich if not especially original. Again, the inspiration came from his earlier experience, and there are several fingerprints of Grieg to be heard. The scherzo is especially successful, its lightness of scoring, coupled with the Latvian National SO’s evident love for the music, proving very charming.
The Suite for String Orchestra had its origins in incidental music written for a play, a fairy-tale comedy by Rolfsen, with seven short, charming movements. Again, the music is somewhat derivative – Grieg was not impressed.
As in their previous issue of the music of Eyvind Alnæs, Terje Mikkelsen and the Latvian National Symphony make an excellent case for these footnotes in musical history, and I cannot imagine them performed better than they are here. In addition, the high resolution sound is very fine indeed, the orchestra bathed in a rich though well-defined acoustic. The multichannel mix is especially fine.
While Olsen’s music lacks those clear fingerprints of originality and passion of a Nielsen or a Sibelius, this well-crafted music is nonetheless very pleasantly entertaining and well worth auditioning.
— Peter Joelson