The title of this album does not directly allude to the physical woods or forests of the Scandinavian region. Rather, its conceptual underpinning is rooted in Haruki Murakami’s novel, “Norwegian Wood”. In much the same vein as Murakami adopted the title from The Beatles’ track “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” composed by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, I have taken a similar cue. By utilising the term “Scandinavian”, the word “Wood” is positioned to evoke a vast, nebulous, and somewhat ethereal imagery. With the precise geographical connotation of “Scandinavian” — encompassing Denmark, Sweden, and Norway — the overarching objective becomes clear: to craft a cohesive, introspective narrative that is both personally and universally resonant, offering a romanticised Scandinavian artistic representation anchored in the album’s repertoire.
Before the ascendancy of the eminent Danish composer Carl Nielsen, Niels Wilhelm Gade (1817 – 1890) reigned supreme. He is indubitably one of the luminaries in Denmark’s musical annals, and his prominence was especially palpable during the 19th Century, a period colloquially referred to as the “Den danske guldalder” or the Danish Golden Age. Gade’s composition “Fantasistykker, Op.43”, conceived in 1864, was originally composed for the clarinet but also exists in a violin version. The harmonies, tonalities, and tempos of these fantasy pieces are emblematic of the Romantic era’s idiom, bearing semblances to the works of Gade’s contemporary, Robert Schumann. Yet, in contrast to many Germanic compositions that proliferated during the same epoch, Gade’s clarinet opus imbibes a rich infusion of traditional Nordic elements and expressions. This is manifest in the musical cadences woven throughout the composition; the third movement, “Ballade”, offers a narrative imbued with a distinctively Danish timbre; whilst the “tranquillo” section in the fourth movement conjures an imagery of a solitary figure standing resolute amidst a tempest, capturing the very essence of Danish atmospherics during the more blustery seasons outside of summer.
The Swedish composer, William Seymer (1890 – 1964), remains lesser known compared to other Nordic luminaries such as Niels Gade. Born in Stockholm, Seymer undertook his musical studies in Sweden, Germany, and England. Beyond composing, he distinguished himself as a music journalist, contributing to magazines both within Sweden and internationally. His oeuvre often exhibits a pastoral, impressionistic hue, as is palpable in his “Suite, Op.8” for B-flat clarinet and piano. Within the published score by Svensk Musik, there are notable printing errors which confound performers. This score, reproduced from a manuscript copy (the origins of which remain ambiguous—whether from Seymer himself or another hand is unclear), further complicates matters with erroneous transpositions in both the piano and clarinet parts. During the recording of this piece for this album, these uncertainties were judiciously addressed, amendments grounded in the theoretical and stylistic framework of the piece, ensuring avoidance of any jarring harmonic or tonal inconsistencies. The revisions aimed to resonate closely with Seymer’s original compositional intent and logic.
“Da Lontano: Fantasia, Op.32”, the brainchild of Norwegian composer Johan Kvandal (1919 – 1999), was penned for alto flute or clarinet. Historically, only the flute rendition of this piece has been committed to recording, leaving the clarinet version uncharted territory. This album heralds the inaugural recording of the clarinet adaptation. Notably, the tonal breadth of the clarinet surpasses that of the flute, leading Kvandal to introduce certain variances in the clarinet transcription, including augmented passages compared to the flute original, thus imparting distinct phrasal nuances.
Erland von Koch (1910 – 2009) carved out a reputation as a multifaceted Swedish composer, crafting not just concert pieces and operas but also venturing into film music. “Monolog Nr. 3” is a standout solo piece from his suite of compositions titled “Monolog”. This collection boasts 18 unaccompanied solos tailored for various instruments, with No. 3 for the clarinet emerging as particularly popular amongst performers. The piece has a distinctive structural note: its two movements seamlessly converge into a unified whole, as indicated by the “attacca” marking concluding the first movement and further corroborated by annotations on the score. For this album, the piece is rendered in its entirety as a continuous performance. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that there is no prescriptive requirement to refrain from rendering the movements separately.
The now-obscure Norwegian composer, Alfred Andersen-Wingar (1869 – 1952), was not just a composer but also distinguished himself as a violinist, violist, and conductor. He honed his craft at the esteemed Conservatoire de Paris under the tutelage of Jules Massenet. Throughout his life, he bequeathed a plethora of symphonies, orchestral works, and other compositions. Regrettably, the scores of many of his works remain elusive today, as does detailed historical documentation of their performances. This holds true for “Konzertstück, Op. 23”. According to public records, the sole extant score is the inaugural printed version by the Berlin-based publisher, Schlesinger. A singular handwritten copy, which interestingly is not in the composer’s hand, resides within the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Correspondence with the Music Curator, Dr. Gary Galván, reveals this particular score was an intrinsic part of the original collection amassed by Edwin Fleisher between 1909 – 1929. The full score housed within the library was meticulously transcribed by Fleisher’s own copyists. Despite diligent searches, details of the composition’s premiere and subsequent recordings remain enigmatic, particularly since its 1907 publication. Hence, the rendition in this album marks a historic recording after a hiatus of 116 years. Given the dearth of biographical material, articles, and programme notes, it is challenging to ascertain the original version of this piece – whether orchestrated or intended for piano accompaniment. It is not uncommon for composers to craft a solo piece with piano accompaniment, subsequently adapting it for an orchestra or vice versa. In this premiere recording, the term “published version” seems an apt descriptor, given the broader historical context. Tragically, the scant biographical data available on Alfred Andersen-Wingar notes his marriage to Anna Marie Relsjø (1869 – 1958) and their progeny, Halvor Nicolai Andersen-Wingar (1910 – 2002). However, records concerning any descendants of Halvor Nicolai Andersen-Wingar are absent, making the quest for additional insights into Alfred Andersen-Wingar’s legacy a formidable challenge.
As previously articulated, Niels Gade played the role of mentor to several budding musicians. Among them was the Danish composer August Winding (1835 – 1899). Curiously, even within Denmark’s conservatoires today, Winding’s oeuvre is infrequently performed or studied, a trend that extends even to native Danish musicians. Nonetheless, Winding’s compositions are imbued with exquisite Romantic virtuosity, vivid tonal hues, and evocative expressions. “DreiFantasistykker, Op.19” was conceived for either clarinet or violin, accompanied by piano. Thus, the piece exhibits characteristics intrinsic to both woodwind and string instruments. Positioning this composition as the concluding piece in this album’s repertoire serves to crystallise the quintessential Romantic essence, drawing a close to the overarching, amorphous narrative of the “Scandinavian wood”.
Many compositions within this album are seldom performed in contemporary settings, underscoring the imperative to revitalise them for posterity. As the tempo of our modern society accelerates, there is a propensity for individuals to eschew profound contemplation, opting instead for fleeting engagements and surface-level comprehension. Relationships appear more tenuous, and societal discourse is often punctuated by aggression, hostility, and rashness. The very essence of life risks devolving into a vacuous void, reminiscent of an expansive, desolate “wood”. It is within this context that the Romantic nuances of this album gain significance. Perhaps, by decelerating our pace and engaging in deeper introspection, such meaningful artistic endeavours can find their rightful place in the annals of artistic expression. The “Scandinavian wood”, thus, transcends from being a mere abstract, hollow imagery to a tangible realm, suffused with emotion.
Chen Hu Jie © 2023
Now Yichang midsummer night
raining with the wind singing
A promising Swedish pianist, Albin Axelsson has been the recipient of numerous accolades, most notably securing the first prize at both the Gothenburg International Piano Competition in 2021 and The Royal Academy of Music Aarhus Soloist Competition in 2023. As a seasoned soloist, he has graced the stage multiple times alongside esteemed symphony orchestras. His collaborations include performing concertos by luminaries like Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Mozart with the Norrlandsoperan Symphony Orchestra, and he is slated to feature as a soloist with the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra in the 2024 season.
A regular feature at premier classical music festivals in Sweden, Albin has showcased his talent at events like the Helsingborg and Gothenburg Piano Festivals. His international repertoire extends to performances in Denmark, Norway, and Hungary. Beyond his solo endeavours, Albin is an ardent chamber musician, often collaborating with vocalists and instrumentalists specialising in woodwind and strings.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Music has honoured Albin with several scholarships in recognition of his prodigious talent. A significant commendation came in 2017 when he was awarded the Norrlandsoperan's scholarship for young musicians, with the jury noting his "musical talent of a considerable degree".
He completed his Bachelor's degree in 2022 at the Ingesund School of Music, where he received guidance from esteemed pianists Mikael Kanarva, Hsin-Bei Lee, Aristo Sham, and Julia Mustonen-Dahlkvist. His initial foray into music began with instruction from Angelika Vestman in Umeå.
Chen Hu Jie, Clarinet
Chen Hu Jie. Chinese clarinettist, composer. Artistic Director of Soundshadow Ensemble. Yichang Gorges Symphony Orchestra Guest Principle Clarinet. Yichang Free Jazz Big Band Clarinettist. As a soloist, Chen Hu Jie made series clarinet concert projects “Loop Line” and “Time Shuttle” since 2018. At age 20, he was invited to play the solo performance at BOZAR Recital Hall in Brussels, Belgium. As a chamber musician and orchestral clarinettist, in 2019, he created Soundshadow Ensemble as one of the Founders and as the Artistic Director. He was hired by Yichang Gorges Symphony Orchestra (YGSO) as Guest Principle Clarinet when he was 19 years old. In 2022, he was invited to join into Yichang Free Jazz Big Band as the Clarinettist. As a new generation’s musician, he also works on many new pieces which were written for him, including the Assistant Professor of Composing in University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) Jasmine Moni Guo’s Deux Faces. As a composer, in 2020, Gorges-Ode, CV.13 was premiered on China Sina (the most popular social media in China) official livestream and performed at Yichang City TV. At the same year, his Chinese contemporary style trio Contrasting Flauto I, CV.7 was lectured in Fujian Normal University Music College (China). He is the prize winner of several music competitions: 1st prize of the 5th China National Music Competition of Woodwind and Brass (clarinet section) and honored with China “Small GoldBell” Special Honor Music Prize (China, 2016); 1st Prize in the 31st Concorso Internazionale per Giovani Musicisti “Città di Barletta” (Italy, 2021); and etc.. Born in Yichang, China in 1999. He started to study clarinet at 9, with Yichang Gorges Symphony Orchestra Principle Clarinet Sun Shan. At 15 years old, he went to Beijing, studied with Pre-Principle Clarinet of Military Band of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Yu Bo, under the systemic Soviet clarinet academic study for 4 years, and also studied with Central Conservatory Of Music Clarinet Professor Yuan Yuan. By deep influences of Nordic clarinet academic style since his childhood times, he mainly studied with Swedish clarinetist Emil Jonason and Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra Principle Clarinet Christoffer Sundqvist during his years in US, and keeps continued study with them until now. After graduated with Bachelor Degree from Arizona State University School of Music (US) with Robert Spring and Joshua Gardner, he moved to Europe in Denmark, current studies in Det Jyske Musikkonservatorium (The Royal Academy of Music Aarhus) with Danish clarinettist Mathias Kjøller. His chamber music educations with Bue Skov Thomassen and German-Austrian School American Pianists Russell Ryan.
(Sigurd Christian) Erland von Koch
(b Stockholm, 26 April 1910). Swedish composer, teacher and conductor. Son of the composer Sigurd von Koch (1879–1919), he studied at the Stockholm Conservatory (1931–5) and then in France and Germany (1936–8) with Höffer (composition), Kraus and Gmeindl (conducting) and Arrau (piano). On his return to Sweden he concentrated on conducting, while also working as a teacher at Wohlfart's Music School, Stockholm (1939–53), and as a sound technician with Swedish radio (1943–5). In 1953 he was appointed to teach harmony at the Stockholm Musikhögskolan, where he was made professor in 1968. He was chairman of Fylkingen (1946–8) and an executive member of the Swedish Composers Association (1947–63). He became a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music in 1957, and has received the Royal Vasa Order (1967) and Litteris et Artibus (1979).
After an early neo-classical phase, typified by the popular orchestral Dans no.2, Koch's style matured through his studies of Grieg, Sibelius, Hindemith and Bartók, and, above all, as a result of his deep understanding of Dalecarlian folk music. His fresh, effectively scored pieces, often using folk melody, have made him one of the most popular Swedish composers abroad. Over the years his treatment of tonality broadened, and he developed a skilful ability in the rhythmic and contrapuntal variation of peasant music, as demonstrated in the orchestral Oxberg-trilogin, the 12 Skandinaviska danser and the Polska svedese. In the Impulsi-trilogin the orchestration is heavier and there are almost 12-note melodies.
(David) Johan (Jacob) Kvandal
(b Oslo, 8 Sept 1919; d Oslo, 16 Feb 1999). Norwegian composer. The son of the composer David Monrad Johansen, he began composing at an early age and studied with Tveitt in Oslo. He qualified as an orchestral conductor at the Oslo Conservatory (1947) and spent a year studying choral conducting at the Stockholm Conservatory. He also received a degree as an organist and worked in that capacity for many years in churches in Oslo. He studied with Joseph Marx at the Vienna Musikhochschule (1950–51) and with Boulanger in Paris (1952–4). He also worked with Blacher in Berlin. As well as composing, Kvandal was a respected critic for leading newspapers in Oslo. His thoroughness and methodical thinking was beneficial to the various boards and committees he joined; he also formed an anthology of recorded and printed classical Norwegian music for the Norwegian Cultural Council.
Gade, Niels W(ilhelm)
(b Copenhagen, 22 Feb 1817; d Copenhagen, 21 Dec 1890). Danish composer, conductor, violinist, educationist and administrator. For his wide-ranging musical activity Gade ranks as the most important figure in 19th-century Danish music.
He had musical parents, his father being a cabinet maker who about the time of Gade’s birth began to specialize in making musical instruments. Gade showed a pronounced musical talent at an early age, and plans for him to join his father’s business as an apprentice were quickly overtaken by his desire to become a musician. At 15 he began to study the violin with F.T. Wexschall and theory and composition with A.P. Berggreen, a leading figure in the Danish folk-ballad movement. He made his début as a violinist in May 1833, and in the following year he was engaged as a junior violinist in the Royal Orchestra.