Notes & Reviews:
The Telegraph, 8th February 2015
The Bergen orchestra plays with a keen ear for colour and dramatic flux, and the chorus...makes the narrative live and breathe in suppleness, expressive sensitivity and lusty power...three fine soloists...carry the story with great distinction, subtlety and immediacy of impact.
MusicWeb International, February 2015
What a nice idea it was to have a Norwegian choir and orchestra performing English music about a Norse hero...The combined Norwegian choirs sing very well indeed in both works... [and] the Bergen Philharmonic plays with verve and distinction. Sir Andrew Davis... is just the man for these assignments.
BBC Music Magazine, April 2015
There's nothing stilted about Elgar's music: it crackles with confident vitality...the Norwegian choruses respond with crisp vigour and superb English diction, only faintly (and appropriately) Scandinavian-tinged. Davis's expansive conducting and the excellent Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra bring out Elgar's vivid orchestral textures.
I suppose it's appropriate that this Norse legend should be recorded by the Bergen Philharmonic, and under the expert guidance of ardent Elgarian Andrew Davis, they and the combined Norwegian choirs seem effortlessly at home with Elgar's music...if you're a fan of Elgar but haven't yet explored some of the choral works that are somewhat off the beaten track, then this is an ideal disc, with enthusiastically engaging performances from everyone.
The Guardian, 5th February 2015
King Olaf has been recorded in full once before, in the 1980s...Fine though that version is, Davis's is better: it has a dramatic sweep and concern for detail that you don't get from Handley. The Bergen orchestra and choir play and sing Elgar as though it were part of their regular repertoire, while the soloists...all cope well with what is sometimes strenuous vocal writing.
Sunday Times, 15th February 2015
King Olaf is a folk-tale narrative about the Norwegian Olaf Tryggvason, in the tradition of Mahler's Das Klagende Lied or Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, and it is splendidly performed by Davis's Bergen forces. The soloists, Emily Birsan, Barry Banks and Alan Opie, all make positive contributions.
After having recorded Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius ('Recording of the Month' in BBC Music), Sir Andrew Davis turns to two of the composer's most popular early choral works: Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf and The Banner of Saint George. The recording, made soon after a successful performance, features the same 'excellent Bergen Philharmonic' and 'outstanding' vocal forces: the 'imposing' baritone Alan Opie, the 'high, incisive tenor' Barry Banks, singing 'fearlessly in some quite challenging passages', and the American soprano Emily Birsan, who sang 'with radiant delicacy' (The Daily Telegraph). These two works shaped Elgar's later reputation as a leading orchestrator and most popular British composer of his time.
International Record Review, May 2015
It is good to have such a fine and experienced Elgarian as Andrew Davis to conduct this performance with the benefit of hindsight, as it were, recognising Elgar's emergent greatness from long experience of where it was to lead him. Davis can fasten upon the glimpses of genius and relish them, while also understanding what there is of value when Elgar is still resting upon the more conventional manner out of which he was formed.
Choir & Organ, May 2015
The combined Norwegian choirs sing in faultless English, while Davis leads the Bergen Symphony Orchestra with unerring sensitivity and nuanced conducting.
American Record Guide, July/August 2015
King Olaf has a text adapted from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82). Longfellow had an intense interest in all things Viking, resulting from a long friendship with Norwegian virtuoso violinist Ole Bull (1810-82). Bull is a prominent figure in Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863), similar in format to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The musician relates three tales, the first of which is a "long saga" of King Olaf Tryggvason (c.964-c.1000). Longfellow's lengthy poem. And a grand Christian finale was added. Saint George, the patron saint of England, is a patriotic paean. It was composed for the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Empress Victoria (1897). It ranges from the gentle to the hip, hip, hooray!
Recording information: Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway (06/16/2014-06/19/2014); Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway (06/19/2014/06/20/2014).
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Elgar: Symphony No. 1; Cockaigne Overture / Royal Liverpool PO; Vasily Petrenko
Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 / Daniel Barenboim, Staatskapelle Berlin [DVD]
Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942): Complete String Quartets / Brodsky Quartet
Franz Xaver Richter (1709-1789): Requiem; Sinfonia con Fuga; De Profundis / Czech Ensemble Baroque; Válek
Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Vol. 3: Symphony No. 2 'Hymn of Praise'; Calms Sea and Prosperous Voyage / City of Birmingham SO & Chorus; Edward Gardner
John Knowles Paine (1839-1906): Symphony No. 2, 'In the Spring' / Ulster Orchestra; Falletta
O Sacrum Convivium!: French Sacred Choral Works, by Poulenc, Messiaen, Langlais & Vierne / Choir of St. John's College, Cambridge; Nethsingha
Charles Ives: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 (Orchestral Works, Vol. 1) / Melbourne SO; Sir Andrew Davis
Walton: Symphony No. 2; Cello Concerto; Improvisation on an Impromptu of Benjamin Britten / Paul Watkins, cello; BBC SO; Edward Gardner
Works DetailsElgar, Edward : Scenes from The Saga of King Olaf, cantata for soloists, chorus & orchestra, Op. 30
- Performers: Barry Banks (Tenor); Emily Birsan; Alan Opie
- Conductor: Andrew Davis
- Notes: Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway (06/16/2014-06/19/2014)
- Running Time: 3 min. 7 sec.
- Period Time: Post Romantic
- Form: Cantata/Oratorio
- Written: 1894-1896
Elgar, Edward : The Banner of St George, ballad for chorus, organ & orchestra, Op. 33
- Conductor: Andrew Davis
- Notes: Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway (06/19/2014/06/20/2014)
- Running Time: 2 min. 40 sec.
- Period Time: Post Romantic
- Written: 1896-1897