About this Recording
8.572522 - HALVORSEN, J.: Sarabande con variazioni / Passacaglia / Concert Caprice / BRUNI, A.B.: 6 Duos Concertants, Book 4 (Lomeiko, Zhislin)

Johan Halvorsen (1864–1935) • Antonio Bartolomeo Bruni (1757–1821)
Violin and Viola Duos


Born in the small town of Drammen, Norway on 15 March 1864, Johan Halvorsen became one of the most prominent figures of Norwegian musical life during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At the age of seven he started studying the violin, and was soon learning other instruments too, playing in local bands. When he was just fifteen, he travelled to Oslo, where he earned money playing the violin in theatre orchestras. Halvorsen was largely self-taught as a musician, although he did study with both Jakob Lindberg in Stockholm from 1884–85, and with Adolph Brodsky in Leipzig (1886–88). In 1885 he was appointed leader of the Musikselskabet Harmonien (now the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra) in Bergen. It was also around this time that he met his compatriot and fellow composer Edvard Grieg, soon to become a lifelong friend. In 1888 he travelled to Aberdeen, but moved to Helsinki just one year later. There he was appointed professor of violin at the Helsinki Music Institute, meanwhile also remaining active as a performer. It was during this period that he began to compose, encouraged by, among others, Ferruccio Busoni. In 1893 Halvorsen returned to Bergen, this time as the principal conductor of the Musikselskabet Harmonien and the local theatre. He continued to compose while his reputation as a conductor grew steadily. In 1899 Norway’s new National Theatre was founded in Oslo, and, owing in part to Grieg’s support, Halvorsen was given the job of conductor. It was during this period that much of his best-known music was written, the greater part of it being incidental music for the theatre. He died in Oslo on 4 December 1935, one of the nation’s most respected musicians.

First written for a church concert, the Passacaglia in G minor was begun in 1897 but revised until 1914. Based on the last movement of Handel’s Keyboard Suite No. 7 in G minor, HWV 432, it is perhaps Halvorsen’s best-known work for violin and viola duo. It opens with a relatively unadorned arrangement of the original theme and variations before transformation into an elaborate set of new variations based on Handel’s music. Halvorsen himself played the viola at the première.

As in the Passacaglia, Halvorsen echoes the musical language of the baroque in another Handelian work for violin and viola, the Sarabande con variazioni. The piece makes use of the famous Sarabande from Handel’s Keyboard Suite in D minor, HWV 437. Again, Halvorsen remains faithful to the original movement for the first part of his arrangement, but soon the music blossoms into a number of separate variations, some lyrical and expressive, others explosively virtuosic.

With the Concert Caprice on Norwegian Melodies we enter an altogether more pastoral realm. With its opening imitation of a bird-call and rustic double-stopping it evokes the natural world. Unlike the other works on this disc, it was written for two violins, which dance around each other in friendly rivalry. Halvorsen may have had the Hardanger fiddle (an eight-stringed Norwegian folk-violin) in mind while writing this piece—certainly he could play the instrument, and was familiar with much Norwegian folk-music, being commissioned by Grieg to transcribe traditional folk tunes played on the fiddle.

Antonio Bartolomeo Bruni was born in Cuneo, Italy on 28 January 1757. He studied the violin in Turin and Novara before travelling to Paris at the age of 23. There he began to establish a reputation as a violinist, performing in the famous Concert Spirituel. A year after his arrival in the city he was offered a place in the orchestra of the Comédie-Italienne, one of Paris’s most popular theatres. In 1789, however, he took the post of first violinist at the Théâtre de Monsieur. It was during this period that Bruni began to publish some of his compositions, including several works for violin. It was within the sphere of comic opera, however, that he gained his greatest successes, collaborating in the premières of almost twenty of them between 1785 and 1800. Despite the upheavals of the French Revolution, Bruni’s career continued to flourish. He became a member of the recently formed Commission temporaire des Arts, a committee tasked with making an inventory of and preserving the republic’s heritage. In 1799 he became director of the Opéra-Comique, but just two years later he accepted the post of director at the newly-opened Théâtre Italien. His tenure there ended in 1806, when he returned to his home town of Cuneo. It was there that he eventually died, on 6 August 1821.

Bruni’s Six Duos Concertants for violin and viola showcase a range of styles and modes of expression. He wrote more than twenty such works, and the six on this disc constitute Book Four. Each follows a similar pattern, containing two often contrasting movements. The first of these duos, No. 1 in E flat major, exemplifies this pattern: it begins with an Allegro moderato, characterized by a sweet, lilting melody, followed by an Allegro assai full of dance-like rhythms and delicate figuration. No. 2 in G minor-major is unusual in that the imposing first movement, marked Allegro con moto, is in G minor, while the second, a gently dignified Andante, is in G major. No. 3 in B flat major begins with an especially beautiful movement, an Allegro moderato with an underlying vivacity and energy that belies the tranquil, flowing eloquence of the figuration. Its partner, the Menuetto: Moderato, is a lively minuet. No. 4 in D major opens with an elegant Allegro maestoso, followed by a markedly different Allegretto scherzando, a playful movement that wittily incorporates melodic leaps and interruptions into the violin part. No. 5 in C major contains two equally contrasting movements: the first, an Adagio - Allegro, begins with a slow, sorrowful introduction in the minor mode before blossoming into joyful C major, while the delicate Andante sostenuto enlivens its predominantly melody-and-accompaniment texture with graceful ornamentation and light-hearted energy. The final duo, No. 6 in F major, establishes a tone of peaceful lyricism with its first movement, an Adagio, while the subsequent Finale, marked Allegro scherzando, closes the book with exuberance and energy.

Caroline Waight

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