Normally, one thinks of pearl-divers as of people from the Southern seas, typically the Tropical ones. Certainly, the ice-cold waters of the polar and subpolar seas are not those most immediately associated with pearl-fishing. And, indeed, the “pearls from the Northern Seas” represented in this Da Vinci Classics album are intangible and invisible, as they represent the domain of the audible.
But, just as the pearls one wears in a necklace, these pearls require patient and astute diving. One has to go deep into the traditional repertoire, where the “usual” things are always found, and, after many layers and concretions of habit and practice, the true oysters are found, some of them hiding valuable pearls.
The pearls offered in this CD, furthermore, are already gathered and collected into a necklace, and a splendid one; one which can be defined as representing Scandinavian music between nineteenth and twentieth century.
Scandinavia occupies a special place in the history of music and culture. Whilst constituted by countries which have well-defined and pronounced differences, it also displays some substantial continuities as concerns language (many people from the different countries are able to understand the language spoken in the others), culture, and, of course, landscapes, climate and what is determined by these elements.
Scandinavia, or at least its southernmost zone, is also close to, or borders with, Germany; this country, in the nineteenth century, justly claimed the role of cradle of Romantic instrumental music. While the musical culture of Romantic Germany represents an unequalled paradise for musicians, and while Western music would be unthinkable without the likes of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms (to name but three), still the claims to centrality and exclusiveness frequently found in German musical literature are fundamentally unjust. True, Germany was leading the path, with audacious innovators who were so rooted in the music of the past that they could renovate it without betraying its order, discipline and beauty. But other countries followed suit, and at times their marks of originality were not inferior to those of the great German geniuses.
Scandinavia, under this viewpoint, was in a special position. On the one hand, the fiddle had always had a role of preeminence in Scandinavian folk music. There was an indigenous tradition of violin music, at times really complex and elaborated, and which was deeply rooted into, and intertwined with, the very soul of Scandinavian people.
On the other hand, the proximity with Germany made Scandinavia very permeable to the suggestions coming from central Europe.
The struggle to find a voice of their own, open to the mastery of the German musicians and to the forms in which it was expressed, but also to a genuinely Scandinavian vein, to its musical heritage, characterizes almost all of the musicians recorded here, and bears witness to the composers’ effort to create something truly Northern, while remaining intelligible by clever musicians all across the globe. At times, authentic folk tunes are cited; at times, new tunes are created which could be easily accompanied by the many fascinating stories narrated during the long winter nights.
The challenge of finding this delicate balance between what has been already said (at times even what has just been “faulty”) and what is quintessentially Scandinavian is largely won by the musicians represented here. Some of them are in the Gotha of classical music: for instance, Edvard Grieg, some of whose works (not perforce the best) have become true pop icons, and many more are very well known also by the common music lover.
Others are better known among specialists (some of these enthusing over them), but have much to offer also to those who are not familiar with the entire gamut of Western music; among them are certainly Niels W. Gade, Johan Halvorsen and Christian Sinding. Still others are largely unknown even by specialist standard; in their case, initiatives such as this one are all the more praiseworthy, as they bring to the attention of the international community of listeners the work of excellent musicians who, for one reason or another, might be ignored by the large public.
Swedish composer Tor Aulin certainly qualifies as one of these. He was particularly active as a violinist, both in the Orchestra of the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm, where he served as concertmaster, and as a chamber musician (the founder and first violin of the Aulin Quartet). Given his activity as a professional violinist, it comes as no surprise that he wrote many works for violin and piano, or for strings, or for violin and orchestra. His Four Aquarelles were written in 1899, when the composer was 33, in their original version for violin and piano; they would obtain great success also in an orchestral transcription by Tor Mann. This small suite alternates pieces with different and diverse moods and styles, ranging from the dreamy to the humorous, from the tender to the lively and vibrant.
Edvard Grieg’s life needs not be recalled, as he was one of the foremost and most celebrated Scandinavian composers ever. He was one of the first to look with interest to the heritage of folk tunes, melodies and dances of his own country, Norway, and of Scandinavia more generally. He made use of a collection of Norwegian folk tunes collected by L. M. Lindeman (1812-1887), and employed some of its most beautiful melodies in several of his works; in others, he was able to create “fake” folk tunes, but with the unmistakable flavour of Scandinavian music. In particular, the tunes from the mountain zones of Norway had a special fascination for him, since they may have represented, in his eyes, the most “authentic” and genuine tradition of Norwegian indigenous music.
Johan Halvorsen became related by marriage with Grieg, whose niece he married; Halvorsen would also orchestrate a funeral march which was to be played at Grieg’s burial. Halvorsen, a Norwegian in turn, was a person who liked moving and travelling, and therefore studied in Oslo and Stockholm, played in the renowned Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, and then became concertmaster in Scotland (Aberdeen), taught in Helsinki, and completed his musical education in St. Petersburg, Berlin, and Liège, before returning to Norway where he had an intense activity as a composer and conductor.
He looked with deep interest to the musical traditions of earlier epochs, and in particular to the Baroque. His Suite Ancienne, his Passacaille and Sarabande are among his most famous works, conceived as a homage to the past, to the Baroque, and in particular to Georg Friedrich Handel. At the same time, the unique feeling of Scandinavian music and its Northern inspiration is impossible to miss. This is certainly a homage to the past, but seen through the eyes of a proud citizen of Scandinavia, whose melodic modes and idiomatic rhythms he did not intend to renounce.
The biography of Christian Sinding has several points in common with Halvorsen’s. Sinding, also from Norway, began his musical education as a pianist and violinist, and, like Halvorsen, went to Germany in order to finish his studies, in Leipzig, Berlin, Dresden and Munich. His works were highly appreciated by Pëtr Ilić Čajkovskij, whose admiration for the Norwegian master brought the musical world’s attention upon him. While Sinding authored works in almost every genre of Western music, it is acknowledged that his most sincere vein is to be found in chamber music, and in particular in pieces such as those recorded here. They represent the late-Romantic strain of his inspiration, with the intense expressivity and elegance of the Waltz and the poignant singing style of the Romanze.
Fini Henriques was a Dane but his birth took place in Frederiksberg, Germany; he came from a family of musicians and received his first musical instruction from his mother. As many of the other composers represented here, he studied in Berlin, in particular under the guidance of legendary violinist Joseph Joachim; later studies took place in other great German and Austrian cities. After some time as a musician of the Danish Royal Chapel, he went on as a freelance violinist and composer. Many of his works are dedicated to the violin, his own instrument and the one he probably favoured. His expertise as a performing violinist allowed him to obtain the maximum effect with the minimum effort, when he so willed; this Is what happens with his Kleine Bunte Reihe, were a relative simplicity at the level of technical challenges does not impact on the beauty of the collection, which provides a formidable outlet for the budding musician’s expressivity and for his or her enjoyment of music.
A similar attitude is found in Aveu, a character piece written by Olga Grevenkop Catenskiold, and obviously reminiscent of the piece by the same name found in Robert Schumann’s Carnaval op. 9 for the piano. Here, as there, the hesitant – at first – and later impassionate words of a lover are given musical form, fittingly employing the violin’s expressive power.
Two other pieces complete this album: Gade’s exquisite Berceuse is a touching piece, full of delicacy and intense expressivity, as befits one of the most important Danish composers of all times, and a representative of the Romantic tradition who was deeply admired by Schumann himself.
Egil Harder’s Romance for violin and piano is yet another example of the fine handling of melody and rhythm found in these Scandinavian composers, whose penchant for nostalgia is a trait unifying many of their works and styles.
Together, these “pearls” really make a necklace worth listening, which brings us to Northern landscapes suffused with light and delicate nuances of sound.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2023
Julia Sigova, piano
Praised by International Piano (August 2019) for "an imaginative programme, brilliantly performed..." pianist Julia Sigova has received wide international acclaim for her powerful performances, her poetic interpretations and her innovative programming across a wide repertoire, often including lesser-known works from the Russian and Romantic repertoire.
Since Ms.Sigova’s debut with The Malmö Symphony Orchestra in 2010, she has become one of the leading female concert pianists in Scandinavia. She has been invited to perform at many prestigious festivals and venues worldwide including La Biennale in Venice, Societa dei Concerti in Milano, Satie Festival in Paris, Britt Music Festival in Medford, Båstad Chamber Music Festival , Music in Tagaborg and Malmö Live in Sweden as well as St.Martin in the Fields in London. Some of the many musicians and conductors with whom Ms.Sigova has performed include: Håkan Hardenberger; Susanne Resmark; Mats Rondin; and Marc Soustrot.
Her many awards and scholarships include not only the prize of Best Pianist in the Öresund region in 2008, but Julia Sigova was also designated Best Female Classical Artist in Sweden by the Fredrika Bremmer Foundation in 2011.
In December 2018 Julia released her debut album “Russian Piano Music” (Classical Dal Vivo) featuring an innovative program of works for solo piano by Tchajkovsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Shchedrin. The album has earned critical raves among prestigious music press including International Piano, Fanfare, American Record Guide and OPUS. "Russian Piano Music" was selected by Fanfare as a 5-star ‘must-hear’ debut recording.
Julia's recordings are often broadcast on radio around the world. She also performed on Swedish TV in the very popular program "Kulturfrågan kontrapunkt".
Born in Minsk, Belarus, Julia showed an early musical talent, beginning to play piano at the age of 6. After finishing Glinka Music High School in Minsk, Julia was invited to study at the Malmö Academy of Music in Sweden, completing her Soloist Diploma with prof. Hans Pålsson, and subsequently studying at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. She continues her education as a soloist under the guidance of prof. Norma Fisher in London and prof. Konstantin Bogino in Italy where she was his assistant.
In addition to her performance career, Ms. Sigova is deeply committed to music education, and is the founder of the International Piano School “Sigova PianoForte” in Malmö, Sweden. She regularly appears as a member of the jury at international competitions and gives master-classes across the world. Ms. Sigova has extensive experience and owns a diverse chamber music repertoire. She is organizer of the chamber music concert series "Salon de Musique" in Malmö. Finally, Julia is also founder and artistic director of Malmö Yamaha Piano Competition, which began in 2021.
Born in St.Petersburg (Leningrad), Anton Lasine started to play violin at the age of 5 and performed frequently as a soloist throughout his early studies. In both the years of 1984 and 1985 he was awarded 1st Prize at the Competition for Young Violinists of the Northern Region of Soviet Union.
In 1986, Anton Lasine attended Rimsky-Korsakov Music College in St.Petersburg and continued his education at the St.Petersburg Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatoire, graduating with a diploma and titles as a soloist, chamber music performer, orchestra musician and teacher. Moving to Scandinavia in 1994, Anton continued his studies with Prof. Alexander Fischer at the Malmö Music Conservatory in Sweden.
Anton Lasine is an active artist, performing both as a chamber musician and soloist in Russia, throughout Europe and Scandinavia. He has performed as a soloist with many orchestras including Malmö Symfoniorkester, Copenhagen Phil, Malmö Opera. Since 1995, Anton has been engaged, both as Concertmaster and tutti violin, by symphony orchestras in Denmark and Sweden, including Copenhagen Phil, Royal Danish Orchestra, Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, Danish Radiosymphony Orchestra, Jönköpings Sinfonietta, Lundalands Filarmoniska Orkester. He is currently engaged as assistant Concertmaster in the Malmö Opera Orchestra.
Christian (August) Sinding
(b Kongsberg, 11 Jan 1856; d Oslo, 3 Dec 1941). Norwegian composer. He trained for a career as a violinist, taking lessons during his school years with Gudbrand Bøhn and also studying music theory with L.M. Lindeman. In 1874 he went to the Leipzig Conservatory, where he was a pupil of Schradieck (violin) and Jadassohn (theory and composition). He stayed in Leipzig for four years, during which time his talent for composition became increasingly evident, and he abandoned his violin studies. His association with German culture remained close throughout his life: he spent some 40 years in the country. In addition, he was in the USA for a year (1920–21), teaching theory and composition at the Eastman School. He received from the Norwegian government regular grants from 1880, an annual bursary from 1910 and from 1924 Henrik Wergeland's house ‘Grotten’. In 1921 he was given a national award for his contributions to music.
Edward Grieg (b Bergen, 15 June 1843; d Bergen, 4 Sept 1907). Norwegian composer, pianist and conductor. He was the foremost Scandinavian composer of his generation and the principal promoter of Norwegian music. His genius was for lyric pieces – songs and piano miniatures – in which he drew on both folktunes and the Romantic tradition, but his Piano Concerto found a place in the central repertory, and his String Quartet foreshadows Debussy.
(Valdemar) Fini Henriques
(b Copenhagen, 20 Dec 1867; d Frederiksberg, 27 Oct 1940). Danish composer and violinist. After piano instruction from his mother and from Friedrich Hess he became a violin pupil of Valdemar Tofte and studied composition with Svendsen. Between 1888 and 1891 he attended the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, studying with Joachim (violin) and Bargiel (theory). On his return he was awarded the Ancker Scholarship which enabled him to undertake a trip to Germany and Austria. During the period 1892–6 he was a member of the Kongelige Kapel, after which he pursued the career of a freelance artist, chiefly as a fêted violinist. He formed his own string quartet and in 1911 founded the chamber music association Musiksamfundet, which he chaired until 1931.
He composed in a highly melodic late Romantic style; influences, for example, of Schumann’s Album für die Jugend can be traced in Henriques’ piano work Billedbogen (‘The Picture Book’, 1899), in which a number of situations from the world of children are characterized in a concise form. In the larger-scale works, such as the music for the melodrama Vølund smed (‘Wayland the Smith’, 1896) and the ballet music Den lille havfrue (‘The Little Mermaid’, 1909), influences of Wagner and Tchaikovsky are often perceptible in music of otherwise Nordic colouring, with hints of Grieg and Svendsen.
Johan (August) Halvorsen,
(b Drammen, 15 March 1864; d Oslo, 4 Dec 1935). Norwegian composer, conductor and violinist. At the age of 15 he went to Christiania (now Oslo), where for four years he played the violin in theatre and operetta ensembles. He was to become one of Norway’s greatest violin virtuosi, although he received violin instruction only for short periods, his teachers including Jakob Lindberg in Stockholm (1884–5) and Adolph Brodsky in Leipzig (1886–8). Halvorsen worked as a violin teacher and concert master in Bergen (1885–6) and Aberdeen (1888–9) before moving to Helsinki, where he became a professor of violin at the Helsinki Music Institute in 1889 and worked as a chamber musician. Among his colleagues was Busoni, and the large circle of musicians in Helsinki prompted him to begin composing. In 1893 he was offered the positions of conductor at the theatre and of the semi-professional symphony orchestra in Bergen. He rapidly became Norway’s leading conductor after Svendsen, and in 1899 he was appointed conductor at the new national theatre in Christiania, a position he held until 1929. As well as stage music, often his own, he regularly conducted symphony concerts at the theatre, and more than 25 operas were staged under his musical direction.
As a composer Halvorsen was mainly self-taught, apart from some lessons in counterpoint from Albert Becker in Berlin (1893). His compositions develop the national Romantic tradition of his friends Grieg and Svendsen, but his was a distinctive style marked by brilliant orchestration inspired by the French Romantic composers.
Tor Aulin (b Stockholm, 10 Sept 1866; d Saltsjöbaden, 1 March 1914). Swedish violinist, composer and conductor, brother of Valborg Aulin. He studied from 1877 to 1883 with J. Lindberg (violin) and C. Nordqvist (theory) at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music and in Berlin from 1884 to 1886 with E. Sauret (violin) and P. Scharwenka (composition). He was active as an orchestral musician in the early years of his career and served as leader of the Swedish Hovkapell from 1889 to 1902. In 1887 he founded the Aulin Quartet, which made annual tours of Sweden and other northern European countries until it was disbanded in 1912; it specialized not only in the Classical repertory, particularly Beethoven, but in a wide-ranging representation of the works of Scandinavian composers, above all Berwald, Grieg, E. Sjögren and W. Stenhammar. From 1890 Aulin worked closely with Stenhammar, who also took part in most of the Aulin Quartet’s tours as pianist. His circle of friends also included Grieg and Sjögren.
From 1900 Aulin devoted his time increasingly to conducting: until 1902 he directed the Svenska Musikerförbundets Orkester, from 1902 to 1909 the Stockholm Concert Society (founded largely through his initiative) and from 1909 to 1912 the Göteborg Orchestral Society. He conducted the first performance of Berwald’s Sinfonie singulière, which he subsequently edited for publication. In 1895 he was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Music.
As a composer Aulin was stylistically as close to German Romanticism as to the Scandinavians. He is best remembered for the last of his three violin concertos, op.14 in C minor, a highly accomplished work reflecting the influence of Bruch and Schumann as well as that of Grieg. He also composed numerous songs and chamber works, wrote incidental music to the play Mäster Olof by his friend Strindberg, and made transcriptions for violin and piano of some of Sjögren’s songs.