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FBRCD-07: Passione

Fanfare, James A. Altena, 11/12 - 2011
Haydn's Symphony No. 49, "La Passione," is unusual in opening with a lengthy Adagio move-ment followed by an Allegro second movement, rather than the reverse, before moving on to the cus-tomary minuet and finale. This sequence and the rare use by Haydn of a minor key signature give the work an unusually dark and somber tone for that master. Although it performs on modem instru-ments, the Telemark Chamber Orchestra follows period-instrument practice in performing 18th-cen-tury repertoire. The piece is played with elegance and spirit. In contrast to many period-instrument performances, the tempi are measured rather than frenetic; the minuet and trio in particular is given a more stately rendition. However, there is no lack of energy, excitement, or rhythmic tautness in the Allegro and Presto movements, and the result is one of the finest Haydn symphony performances I have ever heard. The Elgar Serenade is a bit of a let-down by contrast; it is well executed technically, but the conductor and ensemble simply do not have the English idiom in their blood, and they play it as if it were penned by Edvard Grieg or Hugo Alfven instead. The veins of subliminal pas-sion and intense yearning in this piece, so typical of its composer, run far deeper than this performance suggests. It also makes for an odd interlude between the Haydn and Mozart works, being very different in mood and scale. With the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 12 the performers regain their interpretive footing. The solo part is played by Ingrid Andsnes, the less famous younger sister of the renowned virtuoso Leif Ove Andsnes. Her fingering is clean and her trills even; she plays with a light, pellucid tone that does not turn brittle, and is sparing in her use of the pedal. The rendition is graceful and ingratiating, with a sweet blend of string and wind parts; tempi are at once both lively and relaxed, with an emphasis placed throughout on a flowing, singing, legato line. The soloist and ensemble are of one mind throughout in realizing their interpretation. It makes no pretensions to being exceptionally original or imaginative, and would not be the first choice for this work—both soloist and ensemble could do more to vary the phrasing and accents throughout—but it is quite satisfying all the same. The recorded sound is clean and well balanced. A photo on the inside cover of the digipak shows 15 string players that form the core of the ensemble, but not the wind players who serve as "ringers". for this recording. A bit oddly, the labeling of the physical disc itself is sparse, having only the name of the release and the ensemble, plus the usual copyright information, but no mention of the soloist, conductor, or works performed. In sum, this is a fine debut disc for the pianist, and should serve the intended purpose of making the ensemble more widely known. One will antic-ipate future releases from them, particularly the projected further recordings of Haydn, with pleasure.

Fanfare, Jerry Dubins, 11/12 - 2011
Haydn's "Passion" Symphony (No. 49) is a "homotonal" work, a term coined by the late academic Hans Keller, author of The Great Haydn Quartets, to describe a work in which all movements are in the same key. This was not uncommon in the Baroque, but by Haydn's day, it was already cus-tomary for at least the slow movement of a symphony to be cast in the subdominant of the score's home key, in effect counterbalancing the first movement's sonata-allegro modulation to the dominant.
Be it the work's "homotonality" or its 10-minute-long Adagio first movement, described by H. C. Robbins Landon as "dark-hued, somber----even tragic," that led to its being titled "La Passione," it's known that a performance of the symphony was given during the 1790 Holy Week observances in the northern German city of Schwerin in 1790, and that this, more than any other factor, may have been responsible for the nickname.
The performance here by the TCO is fully mindful of period practices, even unto including harpsichord continuo. The instrumentation page of the critical Landon edition lists a cembalo, though no part for it is written out in the score. Assuming, Haydn did include it, he would have likely played the part himself, filling in the chords from the bass line and directing the orchestra from the keyboard. I'm no Haydn expert, but I understand this point remains controversial, if not contentious.
Its small numbers notwithstanding, the TCO lends the gorgeous Adagio the fullness of sound and the seriousness of expression it requires. Tapered diminuendos and phrase endings are so elegantly played and perfectly coordinated that one has the impression of a single instrument playing, The Allegro di molto movement springs forth with more zest and zing than I think I've ever heard it. The TCO's technical polish is simply astounding, and the recording is alive and exceptionally resonant without being overly reverberant. The concluding Presto may share the same F Minor as the preceding movements, but it sizzles and pops with the energy of a live electrical wire.
All of the untroubled lyricism and youthful ardor of early Elgar are encapsulated in his Serenade for Strings, published in 1892 but believed to have roots in sketches made several years earlier. Why, I'm not sure, but for some reason, the piece always puts me in mind of what a string serenade or suite would sound like if two other composers, Brahms and Grieg, collaborated to write it. It has much of the same engaging quality as Grieg's Lyric Pieces, but also some of the harmonic sophistication of Brahms's early serenades. The TCO shifts gears seamlessly to give a sinuous and supple reading of Elgar's pocket-sized portrait of a "bucolic, dewy English landscape."
In a letter to his father dated April 10, 1782, Mozart writes, "You probably know already the English Bach died." He was referring of course to Johann Christian whom the eight-year-old Mozart had met in London in 1764. The two net again in Paris in 1778. Mozart had great admiration for J. C. Bach, something he rarely expressed for other composers, especially those he saw as potential rivals. Thus, it comes as little surprise to learn that Mozart quotes the overture to Bach's opera La Calamity dei C11071 in the first movement of his A-Major Piano Concerto (No. 12). Written in 1782, the work is one in a set of three concertos Mozart wrote in Vienna and performed for the 1783 Lenten concerts. It's modestly scored, with optional parts for two bassoons, and designed to be played a quattro i.e., by a string quartet. Ingrid Andsnes's performance of the concerto is lucid and limpid, and the TCO supports her with transparent textures and stylish playing.
This is a disc to savor. It's the kind of CD you put on and just sit back and enjoy, secure and comfortable in the knowledge that you're in the very best of hands. Unfortunately, the Norwegian record label Fabra does not appear to have a physical presence in the U.S. market, at least not as of this writing. I did find several Internet sites, including Amazon, that are selling the contents of the disc, but only as MP3 downloads. That may change by the time you read this, and the physical CD may be available. Meanwhile, you can purchase it directly from the source, fabra.no. However you're able to acquire it, I strongly recommend that you do. For sheer listening pleasure, it's one of the most enjoyable releases to come my way in some time.

Fanfare, Boyd Pomeroy, November/December 2011
I suppose CDs must sell better with pointless titles like Passione, or labels wouldn't do it. Of course, Haydn's "La Passione" refers to the specific religious meaning of Christ's sufferings; did they mean this to apply to all three works? Somehow I doubt it. There's little logic in this program, which smacks of a convenient miscellany from the current repertoire of this young (in both senses of the word) Norwegian chamber orchestra. But it doesn't really matter; the disc's purpose is to showcase the group's quality, and in this it succeeds handsomely. Although Lars-Erik ter Jung is list-ed as conductor, the photograph has him posing with his violin along with the other players, so I sus-pect he's more of a director from the concertmaster's chair.
The eponymous Haydn work is played with much finesse, imagination, and expressive com-mitment, with an awareness of period style that does not inhibit a full-blooded response. The open-ing Adagio has the requisite dark, smoldering (penitential) quality: lyricism on an intimate scale, with sparing string vibrato, but also an acute response to the music's dramatic (dynamic, articula-tive) contrasts. The fast movements (second and fourth, in accordance with the archaic sonata da chiesa scheme Haydn draws on here) have an ideal combination of blistering intensity and textural transparency, with real shape and direction to the phrasing. In the Minuet, the Trio's brief window of major-mode relief is given effective expression through adopting a faster tempo, relative to its grim minor-mode surroundings. Harpsichord continuo is employed, and all repeats taken.
Elgar's Serenade is very well played, and these Norwegians catch the elusive English expres-sive idiom surprisingly well. The outer movements are full-blooded and invigorating, while the cen-tral Larghetto has real concentration and inwardness, even if, at the climactic reprise of the second idea, I miss the soaring freedom of some classic versions (e.g., Barbirolli, Sinfonia of London, EMI); this is a cooler, more northern Elgar than usual.
Ingrid Andsnes is an impressively accomplished artist. The first movement is strongly purpose-ful, with real thrust and animation to the phrase-shaping as well as striking finesse in dynamic shading. The Andante is richly expressive, though in the development section she could have made a little more—in terms of timing and coloring—of Mozart's marvelous harmonic drama in the soloist/orches-tra interplay. Incidentally, I always thought it was this movement that drew on the theme by J. C. Bach, not the first movement as stated in the notes. The finale is dispatched with sparkling technical panache and irresistible brio. Throughout. the orchestral contribution is alert and characterful.
The recording is close and detailed in an acoustic a little dry for my taste. Indeed, for a less-accomplished ensemble it could have been cruelly unflattering, but these players survive its close up scrutiny with flying colors. Altogether, one of those discs that turns out to be an unexpected treat, and recommended with (ahem) a passion.

Aftenposten, Astrid Kvalbein, 13. 12. 2010
A warm and gentle sound, that occasionally becomes a bit woolly.
The artistic director Lars-Erik ter Jung both poses and answers the question in the cover notes of Telemark Chamber Orchestra’s new record: they have recorded Haydn, Elgar and Mozart because they want to – and to present an ensemble that is still relatively young.
And Passione is an enjoyable encounter with the orchestra. Joseph Haydn’s Symphony no. 49 in F Minor is played intimately and pleasantly, bordering on the sedate at the start, but gradually it livens up. The tone is warm and gentle, and it helps to make Edward Elgar’s well-known Serenade more likable than exciting. Unfortunately it sometimes sounds a bit woolly.
Bright and articulate.
It all brightens up with Ingrid Andsnes as the soloist playing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s twelfth piano concerto in A Major. She plays beautifully, with an almost bold clarity, a relatively bright tempo and effective use of contrast – many of the things that I wish the orchestra had even more of.

Klassisk Musikkmagasin, Martin Anderson
An introduction in the booklet by the conductor Lars-Erik ter Jung explains that ‘These are the pieces we wanted to play’ – to show off the Telemark Chamber Orchestra, that is – and this disc does the job very nicely: a stylish and spirited account of the Haydn, an Elgar which is sweet without being sentimental and a Mozart with a real sense of narrative purpose. It’s the combination of ter Jung’s brisk tempi and the clarity of the chamber-orchestral textures that give these performances their freshness and allure and – in the Mozart – the pellucid playing of Ingrid Andsnes, who gives ample proof that Leif Ove is not the only fine musician in the Andsnes family. The recording, made as recently as October 2010, is clear and detailed, and the liner notes are by none other than Olav Anton Thommessen. The orchestra’s previous CD, "Nostos", was of contemporary Norwegian music; here’s proof that it can hold its head high in a completely mainstream repertoire.

Dagsavisen. Ida Habbestad
Personleg klassisisme
Telemark kammerorkester har eksistert sidan 1992, og har verksemd i Telemarksområdet, ofte med ny musikk på programmet. På den førre plata si dokumenterte dei deler av arbeidet sitt med å tinga verk av norske komponistar. Med denne utgjevinga presenterast standard stoff som ensemblet og har kjensle for.
Fellesnemnaren er pasjonane; emosjonar som i all hovudsak kling elegante. Både Haydn sin symfoni 49 «Passione» og Mozart sin pianokonsert nr 12, byd på langt meir subtile uttrykksformer enn kva ein forbind med sterke kjensleutbrot i dag, og den stilfulle innkransinga av det affekterte er fascinerande lytting. Òg Edward Elgars kjende «Serenade for strykarar», av nyare dato, føyer seg fint inn i eit slikt bilete. Den pasjonerte og mykje melankolske stemninga her korresponderer med fortida gjennom den danseaktige rytmiske framdrifta, med hint av wienerklassisk, klår struktur.
Kammerorkesteret spelar moderne instrument, i Haydn-stykket er dei moderne instrumenta kopla med cembalo. Ei utfordring både her og i Mozart-konserten er dermed at utførsla lett kan klinga for tungt. Eg har då òg høyrt innspelingar av begge stykke med lettare og meir distinkte preg enn dette. Likevel fungerer tolkingane etter min smak: Det romantiske tilsnittet vert jamvel det fordelaktige ved Ingrid Andsnes sitt framlegg som klaversolist i Mozart, sidan Andsnes med dette så tydeleg lukkast i å la frase-ringane sine bli personlege.
I opptaka høyrer ein godt dialogane, òg den geografiske plasseringa i ensemblet. Ein høyrer enkeltmusikarane, ofte kvar for seg, og det hender eg tenkjer at mikrofonane står hakket for tett inntil, så samklangane ikkje får rom til å blanda seg. Men som regel er inntrykket sjarmerande ekte - nok ein gong som teikn på at ensemblet og har rom for individet.
Other reviews:

FBRCD-12: Thommessen /Bibalo

FBRCD-11: Bite the Dog ll

FBRCD-10: Arvesylv

FBRCD-09: Crossing Patterns

FBRCD-07: Passione

FBRCD-06: Grieg Revisited

Currently in Norwegian only:

FBRCD-15: Anvik-Thoresen-Ravel

FBRCD-14: Tapestry

FBRCD-13: Portraits

FBRCD-08: Jumping Wide

FBRCD-05: Cirrus

FBRCD-04: Nostos

FBRCD-03: 19 March 2004, Oslo Cathedral

FBRCD-02: Oslo String Quartet Falling Upwards

FBRCD-01: Twitter Machine