Ståle Kleiberg: Concertos
2L 2L-166-SABD (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Violin Concerto No. 2
DOPO for Violoncello and String Orchestra
Concerto for Viola and Orchestra
Marianne Thorsen, violin
Eivind Ringstad, viola
Fredrik Sjölin, cello
Trondheim Symphony Orchestra
Peter Szilvay, conductor
Ståle Kleiberg’s concertos unfold in the space between poetry, passion and playfulness. This is contemporary music with which listeners can easily engage, but which does not for one moment compromise artistic quality. “I try to form the musical expression so that it corresponds with my experience of life; or, to put it another way, to form it so that it is in accord with my conception of what it means to be a human being,” says Kleiberg about himself and his music.
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - August 20, 2021
In a highly competitive field, labels have to look for new avenues to satisfy classical music lovers’ appetite having already umpteen versions of Ludwig van Beethoven’s violin concerto on their shelves. Many ripe and green examples have passed my SACD player. Some interesting, some less so. In fact, on the road to searching for new, contemporary music seems to be riding high.
However, new is not always better. Being inventive, joggling with sound, attract listeners’ attention with a profusion of strange noises, may hit the moon, but one mustn’t forget that remaining with the eternal wisdom of the stars, new music using conventional tools can still evoke much emotion amongst traditional souls like me.
Answering the question of whether the musical means of the past have now become obsolete, as some claim, I’d respond that there is still so much more to say with the ‘old’ language. Ståle Kleiberg proves my point. The vocabulary with which he impresses his audience, be it to elicit nostalgia or to convey deeply moving sorrow, remains in the melodiously tonal, neo-classical realm.
Kleiberg was, for some time, Trondheim Symphony Orchestra’s composer-in-residence. Choosing (members of) this orchestra for this recording is, therefore, a logical and above all, a greatly gratifying one. The musicians are clearly familiar with his style and obviously willing to let the music develop as best as they can. But that isn’t all. To illustrate the overall standing of this provincial Norwegian orchestra, it ought to be taken as a clear indication of excellence that the American conductor, James Gaffigan, has just signed a two-year contract to become its next music director. Moreover, the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra work closely together with the ‘Trondheim Solistene’, notably in the field of chamber music, sharing 10 string players.
Norway has indeed more to offer to classical music lovers than the orchestras of Bergen or Oslo (and don’t forget Stavanger). Trondheim is “a town thriving on music”, says Daniel Hope, a South African-born violinist, now living in Berlin, in a BBC article ‘Musical destinations: Trondheim, Norway’ on the Trondheim Chamber Music Festival.
Living in the Northern Hemisphere, the month of August is a crucial moment for me and maybe others. With a loss of 2 hours of daylight, it feels as though it begins in the Summer to end in Autumn. Foreboding that leaves will soon start turning red or yellow depending on where you live. Nostalgia creeps in.
Not to worry, though. It has its positive side, too. It means having more time to catch up with preferred or to listen to new music. For these moments of autumn blues, Ståle Kleiberg is the perfect antidote. The many colours of his music have a soothing effect allowing the listener to come to terms with what was and cherish whatever is still in store. Enjoy!
So, what exactly do we get. Marianne Thorsen, a child of Trondheim, widely appreciated by connoisseurs for the purity of her playing, recorded to great acclaim Kleiberg’s first violin concerto, glowingly reviewed by John Miller (Kleiberg: Treble & Bass - Thorsen, Sjölin, Reuss) saying: “It is hard to imagine a better performance of this piece; her purity of tone, strength and control of line, vibrant expressiveness and formidable technical ability make for a gripping and moving interpretation”, to which I have nothing to add.
With the second, she is once more best placed to interpret the meticulously coloured score of which Kleiberg evidently holds the secret. Despite having been composed as recently as 2017, it follows a traditional pattern of mostly restrained and beautifully shaded harmonics that fall pleasantly on the ear but are nonetheless models of ingenious construction.
Dedicated to, and premiered on the 22nd of December 2017 to celebrate the 80th birthday of the Norwegian painter, Kjell Parr-Iversen, it is a transcription into music of his visual art, described as ‘The light of sunlight’ because of his vivid colour settings with lots of yellows and reds. And although the music is not vivid to a similar degree, the bright colours of the painter and the considerate palette of Kreiberg do have nonetheless something in common, which can be associated with that hard to define feeling of nostalgia, the longing for something that has gone, or is in scarce supply, like during the extensive wintertime of Norway: Daylight.
Miraculously, Mme Thorsen’s eloquent performance, emphatically supported by the warm strings of the TSO, gives the listener ample opportunity to wallow in nostalgia, enjoying her sensitive reading of a broadly brushed colour scheme drawn in honour of a notable Norwegian painter. What a gift!
According to Ståle Kleiberg’s excellent notes, and, therefore, coming from the ‘horse's mouth’, his Viola Concerto (2019) is based upon “Edvard Munch’s variants on the Dance of Life theme provided the inspiration for this work, which unfolds somewhere in the space between poetry, passion and play”. Notwithstanding having to take his word for it, this absolutely wonderful and smartly designed composition has, in my view, also a typical Norwegian pastoral ring around it. Be that as it may, written for Eivind Ringstad, prize winner of the 2012 European Broadcasting Union (EBU) competition for young musicians, and the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, one could not have wished for a better teamwork performance, the more so because Peter Szilvay’s - Mariss Jansons one time assistant at the Oslo Philharmonic - inspirational orchestral grip, efficaciously harmonizes the varying input from the soloist as well as the individual instrument groups of the orchestra.
In my view, the most emotionally gripping part of this release is the Cello Concerto. Written almost three decades ago, it bears witness to atrocities committed during the Balkan wars. A desperate reminder that so many years after the Second World War ‘ethnic cleansing’ has not disappeared (and most probably won’t in the future either). Many do not so easily associate such feelings of grief with reserved Norwegians. A mistake. Solo cellist, Fredrik Sjölin, educated at Trondheims School of Music, gives ample expression to Kleiberg’s dramatic score. Passionately supported by the strings of the orchestra the listener is drawn into the sadness of time. A sweeping (In my first draft I wrote ‘weeping’, which, after all, is probably what I felt at that moment) performance that will stay with you long after it is over.
For those who don’t know: Fredrik Sjölin is a member of the Danish String Quartet and plays on an F. Ruggieri (1688) cello, loaned through the Anders Sveaas Charitable Foundation, which is - no doubt, though only partly - responsible for his authentic and admirably developed tone.
Although some, like me, would rather sit in the hall than on stage, lovers of full sound around get preferential treatment. In keeping with 2L’s usual soundstage (“Recorded music is no longer a matter of a fixed one-dimensional setting, but rather of a three-dimensional enveloping situation”), and provided your play-back equipment allows it, the listener is put in the royal ‘immersive’ seat, well in the middle of all the action.
Needless to say, that Marten Lyndberg, 2L’s sound wizard, has spared no effort to get the full frequency spectrum across without any hint of distortion. So, don’t spare your speakers. Listen to the music and forget about the neighbours. They might actually like it as much as I did!
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France
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