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Tales of Sound and Fury - Terje Tønnesen

Tales of Sound and Fury - Terje Tønnesen

BIS  BIS-2256

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Drum solos on Wedding Tune from Halandsdalen, Drum roll from Melhus, Spissrot (Running the gauntlet)
Anon.: New Mad Tom of Bedlam
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber: Sonata jucunda, Battalia, Sonata representativa
John Eccles: Restless in Thought
Henry Purcell: Bess of Bedlam
Georg Philipp Telemann: Ouverture Burlesque de Quixotte

Karin Dahlberg (soprano)
Camerata Nordica
Terje Tønnesen (director)


In the course of this highly original programme, Terje Tønnesen and his Camerata Nordica tell us tales of madness and love, of battles and delusions. Building on imaginative scores by Biber, Telemann and Purcell, Tønnesen himself and Mikhel Keremhas fashioned even more colourful arrangements that bring human follies and passions to the fore.

In the course of the disc we are treated to rousing drum solos, a trio of Hungarian folk musicians makes a guest appearance in Biber’s ‘joking sonata’ and a Swedish nyckelharpa adds colour to the plaintive Aria in Battalia, before the listener is telescoped into the famous battle scene itself.

Featured soloist soprano Karin Dahlberg gives us memorable portraits of madness in three English ‘Mad Songs’, and throughout the programme the members of the ensemble with equal conviction play their instruments, bay as a pack of hounds and groan as wounded musketeers. The result is a pageant fit for a street performance during a carnival – at turns absurd, burlesque, frightening and moving.

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Review by John Miller - October 19, 2017

"Tales of Sound and Fury?" How did this come about as an SACD?

Norwegian violinist Terje Tønnesen and Mikhel Kerem (Tallinn, Estonia), who is also a violinist and a section principal in the Camerata Nordica, have delectably brought human follies and passions to the fore, using original composers like Anon, Biber, Eccles, Telemann and Purcell. Taking their output of music featuring Mad Songs, Madness, Mayhem, Wars and Musketeers, Tønnesen and Kerem have arranged some of the scores in an ingenious way.

Camerata Nordica expands its usual string ensemble with a fine soprano singer, a speaker, three Hungarian players (flute and tárogató; Hungarian 3-stringed viola and gardon; double bass and bass drum) beside a myckelharpa (traditional Swedish keyed string instrument), with some special drums and even a flute! The ensemble joins in, making talking, whistling, shouting and weeping sounds as if they were in a market, others simulate hunting with hounds and making war noises including wounded musketeers. Two harpsichords are part of a more gentle continuo.

The violinists (ensemble or solo) use a range of sound effects, some done very subtly. They use both strings and/or bows - for example a single, quick, whip-like bow across the strings; and 'col legno' - striking the string rhythmically with the stick of the bow (first scored in 1605). The wood of the bow can also be drawn across the string in different ways - a technique called 'col legno tratto' ("drawn with the wood"). These effects (and more) add extra edge to the orchestration at various points of the Sound and Fury pieces.

In order to emphasize the element of drama which drags us 'into the street', there are three improvisations with a Norwegian folk drum (slåttereromme) which interpolate with the main items. The first (Tr 1) and second (Tr 4) respectively use Norwegian wedding tunes, while the third uses the military mode, with a solo which was used to cover the corporal punishment of soldiers (Tr 16). The second drum appears at left rear in your multichannel and effectively moves around to front centre.

In Tr 2 the egregious Anon composer sets us off with an English song, "New Mad Tom of Bedlam", referring to London's Bethlehem Royal Hospital, which was known all over Europe for the word 'Bedlam', representing the insanity in the Hospital. The text of this song is weird (presented in the booklet). Camerata and drums begin with a grinding, heavy rhythm introduction for soprano Karin Dahlberg, who recites or sings verse by verse with great insight to each, even with men's voices singing over her and desperate dissonances emanated from Camerata.

Tr 3 is by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, with a musically colourful Sonata Jucunda with the three Hungarians and nyckelharpa. It gives a good contrast to the previous track, especially with its pseudo-Chinese nature. After the second Drum interlude in Tr 4, Biber returns with his well-known instrumental 'Batallia' at Tr 5, with 8 movements. Raucous dances, marching, fighting - all from chattering instruments. Solo violinists use a variety of unusual physical tone-changes. And a deep, deep bass under-pinning some pieces is truly thrilling. So if you think you know this piece, think on!

Tr 13. John Eccles' (1668-1735) song 'Restless in Thought', again superbly performed by Karin Dahlberg, is a psychological text about a man's heart which offers much for women, to the verge of nervous breakdown, but is always rejected. Dahlberg's sympathy and lovely vocal trills follows Eccles' sensitive work.

Tr 14. Biber returns, with 'Sonata representativa', for violin and continuo in the innocent score. In fact, we perhaps need to think this was affected by freedom and unconventionalty, which Biber did himself, his students tell us. This piece is a survey of local countryside's inhabitants, especially the birds. Terje Tønnesen (violin) and Mikhel Kerem (commentator) have a wild and original version, using a range of physical playing and rhythic devices. Kerem blandly tells the bird's name, and tells us that it flew into a tree. Tønnesen's violinic bird portrait becomes more and more like modernistic shocks. I love the cuckoo, a march at the hen-house and the quail.

Tr 15. Henry Purcell (1659-1695) made a wonderful setting of the mad-song 'Bess of Bedlam', a song widely distributed around 1682. His handling of the mood changes is masterly, and Karin Dahlberg's voice once again is full of character, this time a set of mad ones. "I’ll lay me down and die’ with a list of nocturnal animals", she has to sing in the final profound stanzas.

Tr 17-24. Georg Philip Telemann (1681-1767), was a self-called expert in wide varieties of musical styles across Europe. He was particularly keen on the absurd, grotesque and burlesque, three intense characteristics of Baroque. Terje Tønnesen and Mikhel Kerem took the very plain score of Violins 1 & 2, Viola and Violoncello in Telemann's 'Burlesque de Quixote' and apply ingeneous additions or musically mad comments, especially doing better than Telemann's own few instructions such as "His Amorous Sighs for Princesse Dulcine". If you thought you had heard 'Burlesque de Quixote' before, think again; the accent on this one is definitely 'Burlesque', especially with chattering of the insane, moaning of the wounded, and spluttering of the drunk.

This SACD was recorded between 2006-2015 in visits to Algutsrum Church on Öland, an island in the Baltic close to the Stockholm mainland. The original format was 24-bit/44.1kHz (Sonata jucunda & Battalia) and 24-bit/96kHz for the rest of the items. As the microphone layouts will have been different on the different times and purposes, it would be almost impossible to be able to define the two relative kHz. Overall, the 5.0 surround sound channel is splendid in the amiable church with a responsive acoustic. However, I am a little surprised when the vocals interact, since they sound very much that they are in church, when they are supposed to be in the open air of one type or another. Perhaps a hall with less ambience would have been more appropriate. However, The Norwegian drum rolls excel in clarity, in the church space and the large bass, as I have noted above, produced very deep notes, often very soft, where one feels it rather than hearing - better even than an organ's 32' organ pipes (even if they had one in the church!).

If this set of Baroque music was a straight programme, strictly following the published scores, it would still be interesting and worth listening, so good are the musicians. Terje Tønnesen and Mikhel Kerem, however, have introduced us to the darker side of Baroque. This is a surprise - several surprises, in fact, and truly full of Tales of Sound and Fury. Well worth exploring!

Copyright © 2017 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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