Bull: Violin Concertos - Follesø / Ruud
2L 2L-067-SABD (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Ole Bull: Sæterjentens Søndag, Concerto in A major, Concerto Fantastico, I ensomme stunde, La Verbena de San Juan, Et Sæterbesøg
Annar Follesø (violin)
Norwegian Radio Orchestra
Ole Kristian Ruud (conductor)
Ole Bull (1810-1880) was an adventurer, violin virtuoso, composer and international star who brought the name of Norway to worldwide attention. Within music and drama he was a pioneer in the development of a national identity, and on the concert stage his fabulous playing skills and intense charisma early won him the sobriquet "the Scandinavian Paganini".
Some of his most attractive tunes, as well as the rural potpourri Et Sæterbesøg have remained part of Norway's cultural heritage; on this recording they can be heard alongside his two virtuosic violin concertos and the fiery Spanish fantasia La Verbena de San Juan. The concertos and the fantasia were rediscovered only a few years ago, and this is the first recording ever made of these attractive works. The A major Concerto was written in Italy in 1834 and boasts everything one could ever dream of when it comes to attractive tunes and giddy virtuosity. No. 2, Concerto Fantastico, lives indisputably up to its name and confirms what Franz Liszt wrote in 1840: "He is a sort of savage’s genius, possessing an abundance of original, enchanting ideas. In brief, he has moved me; it is a long time since that has happened to me."
Review by John Miller - March 19, 2010
Ole Bull (1810-1880) is a major cultural icon for Norwegians. And no wonder; not only did this extraordinarily precocious son of a Bergen pharmacist have the talent to become one of the nineteenth century's most famous travelling violin virtuosi, he "discovered" the dramatic talents of Henrik Ibsen and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and profoundly inspired composers Grieg, Swendsen and Nordraak amongst many others. He played a key role in development of Norway's nationalist movement by collecting folk music and absorbing Norway's long-standing fiddle-playing traditions. He would have required great courage to build up such international fame with his playing and compositions; in the early part of the century, Norway was considered by cognoscenti in southern Europe as a culture-less abode of savages.
Only two of Bull's compositions found on the present disc are duplicated on Simax's tribute to Bull (Bull: A Norwegian Pioneer - Tellefsen/Aadland). The two violin concertos and other pieces recorded by 2L have been brought to light by extensive recent scholarship on Bull, and are based on autographs conserved at several sites in Norway.
Don't expect to hear concertos which plumb the depths; Bull had no formal training in composition, and his movements are mainly rhapsodic chains constructed with his considerable melodic gifts; unashamedly superficial entertainment for gathering crowds to concerts. His virtuosity was as legendary as Paganini's, and he used much more of the violin's range than his rival - a characteristic of his music is the alternation of stratospheric and lower registers. Another invention, heard in the first movement of the Concerto in A major, is playing in four parts simultaneously, for which Bull used a flat bridge.
Annar Follesø studied violin in Indiana under Mauricio Fucs, whose own teacher was Jascha Heifitz. Thus Follesø is able to produce exactly the sort of bel canto playing which these works require, with Bull's melodic style often carrying clear references to Donizetti and Rossini. Accompanying him are the 50-strong Norwegian Radio Orchestra, a band of appropriate size for music of this age, and informed for this particular recording by their wide repertoire of 'light' music, folk music, symphonic works, jazz and rock. Ole Kristian Ruud is well-known for his Grieg discs for BIS, and he is a frequent guest conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. Together this team produce performances which simply glow with affection and respect for Ole Bull's work; it would be hard indeed to better them. Music such as this could easily be rendered with sugary sentimentality, but Ruud and Follesø together ensure that the playing is fresh, full of vitality and representative of styles prevailing at the time of composition.
Recording Producer Wolfgang Plagge and Balance Engineer Morten Lindberg have produced one of 2L's best recordings so far. The DXD originated capture was made in multichannel, mostly with simple arrays of 3 forward facing and 2 rear-facing mics, in the moderately-sized but lively acoustic of Jar Church. The orchestra are arranged in a horseshoe shape, with the listener near the open end.
Sensibly, deeper instruments such as the violas, cellos and basses are front stage rather than behind the listener as on productions from some other companies. Psychoacoustics shows that we cannot locate such low sounds from behind us with any precision; rearward location depends on higher frequencies with sharp transients. 2L therefore place the violins along the sides of the acoustic stage, divided left and right. The 5.1 MC sound is very lifelike and vivid, with plenty of reflections from the rear wall of the church. One feels fully immersed in the music, and the soloist is happily placed well into the orchestra, with a good share of ambience for his instrument. There is ample deep rhythmic bass (and a palpable bass drum). Breathtaking textures such as the violin melody sweetly floating over a cushion of hushed tremolo strings are a feature of this fine recording.
The stereo track sounds very well, but its relative flatness is quite a shock if shifted to from MC.
2L's production resides in a standard Blue-ray package, with the DSD disc partnered by a Blue-ray one, which offers the programme in 5.1 DTS HD MA 24/192kHz, 7.1 DTS HD MA 24/96kHZ and 2.0 LPCM 24/192kHz selectable either from a video menu or by pushing colourd buttons on the remote. These all sound very fine if subtly different, and format-gurus can have a fine time comparing tracks. Generously, 2L use mShuttle technology, which allows networked Blue-Ray players to obtain computer downloads of MP3 and CD portable formats for carrying the programme away from the home.
The larger Blue-ray container also accommodates a very thorough and extensive set of notes about the music, and Bull's biography in English and Norwegian, with marvellous colour session photos. I do regret, however, that the now clichéd reproduction of Caspar David Friedrich's "Wanderer above a Sea of Fog" was used on the cover, when one of the many fine early Romantic Norwegian paintings would have been more appropriate and distinctive.
Outstanding entertainment, brilliant playing and immersive sonics. Highly recommended.
Copyright © 2010 John Miller and HRAudio.net
Review by Graham Williams - April 12, 2010
It is difficult not to run out of superlatives when discussing the sound quality, and more often than not the performances, on most 2L releases. This new recording is a case in point. The DXD multi-channel recording has an almost tactile quality, and though listeners are positioned with the orchestra in an arc around them, the result is realised in a totally natural and un-gimmicky way that benefits the clarity of the orchestral texture and draws one into the music.
Ole Bull was one of the most iconic figures in Norwegian cultural life of the 19th century. His reportedly astonishing violin playing was admired by Berlioz, Liszt and Schumann but, while his friendship with and influence on Grieg, and Svendsen are well documented, his own music is less familiar outside his native land; something that it is hoped will be rectified by this superb recording.
As a travelling virtuoso violinist Bull had little time available for formal composition training and though he is often described as ‘the Norwegian Paganini’, due to the astonishing technical prowess of his playing, it is his outstanding melodic gift that impresses in each of the six works on this recording. Bull’s admiration for the performances of the great singer Maria Malibran and operas of Bellini are immediately brought to mind in both the solo and orchestral writing. Though both the concertos are as instantly appealing as are the shorter items, the highpoint for this listener is ‘La Verbena de San Juan’ with its infectious Spanish rhythms, spirited use of the ‘Jota Aragonesa’ and castanets much to the fore.
Annar Follesø’s fine disc of Bartok on this label Bartók: Violin Sonatas - Follesø / Nyman / Hadland showed him to be a player with a formidable technique, and he seems equally at home in Ole Bull’s very different style, whether it be climbing to stratospheric heights or pouring out heart-warming melodies. The Norwegian Radio Orchestra’s accompaniments are fresh and stylish under Ole Kristian Ruud’s alert direction.
The presentation of the pair of discs (Blu-ray and SACD) is exemplary. It includes detailed notes on the composer and his music, artist biographies and session photographs in colour that illustrate both the orchestral layout and microphone placement.
An altogether delectable disc of rare and unjustly neglected music.
Copyright © 2010 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net