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Jens F. Laurson
Ionarts, March 2012

gorgeous, lush romantic music of Johan Svendsen…The four Norwegian Rhapsodies (opp.17, 19, 21, 22), and Zorahayda op.11 (Naxos 8.570322) are like a blend of the most agreeable elements of Liszt, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner. © 2012 Ionarts Read complete review

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, March 2010

Johan Svendsen’s four Norwegian Rhapsodies and tone poems, Romeo and Juliet and Zurahayda are excellently performed and beautifully recorded by Bjarte Engeset and the South Jutland Symphony (8.570322). Svendsen…finely-orchestrated Rhapsodies are much more simple, “narrative” affairs. Romeo and Juliet, a particularly effective piece…This seems important, for Svendsen chose many similar motives for the drama (although far less striking or beautiful); it is possible he heard the Tchaikovsky or saw the score.

Lee Passarella
Audiophile Audition, February 2010

…with good melodies…and effective orchestration. All of them are well proportioned and…they work themselves up into a spirited lather at the finish line.

The performances, though, are dedicated and sympathetic, while Naxos provides a good atmospheric recording…be assured that all involved in this project give Svendsen their best effort.

Rob Maynard
MusicWeb International, February 2010

Frequently taking native folk melodies as at least their starting point, the Norwegian Rhapsodies are unlikely to frighten the horses…The depiction of Shakespeare’s lovers is rather more interestingly done…It is good, though, to have it here as part of a rounded picture of the composer’s style. The final work on the disc, Zorahayda, takes as its inspiration a story of an apostate Moslem princess who forsakes her faith for the sake of her Christian lover… Zorahayda became the one of the more popular of Svendsen’s occasional pieces. While the composer avoids the full-blown orientalism that we find in contemporaries such as Rimsky-Korsakov or Borodin, it is easy to see how his creative scoring and attractive melodies found favour at the time…it is good to hear these pieces in such committed and professionally executed performances as these—and in first rate sound and at bargain price, too

William Kreindler
MusicWeb International, January 2010

The South Jutland Symphony Orchestra has had Carl Gararguly, Iona Brown and Niklas Willén among its past conductors and this shows in the excellence of their ensemble…deserves special praise.

William J Gatens
American Record Guide, November 2009

…these are bracing, clearly enthusiastic and marvelously well played readings…Engeset is very good indeed…Engeset is very near the top of the chart…remarkably well controlled…so [he] finds in the music a voice very much his own…

Film Music: The Neglected Art, August 2009

Johan Svendsen (1840–1911) wrote music at the same time as his fellow Norwegian Edvard Grieg (1843–1907) and while Grieg is a household name in classical music Svendsen is pretty much of an unknown. He actually supplemented where Grieg was less productive as Johan’s instrument was the orchestra: it was the one he knew best and the one he wrote most of his compositions for. He wrote somewhere in the middle of the Romantic period yet form wise much of his material is as that of a classicist. Writing primarily in a major key his work is upbeat and lively, a perfect setting for Norwegian folk material.

The (4) “Norwegian Rhapsodies” were written during the 1876–1877 period of time and are based on themes found in Lindeman’s “Older and Newer Norwegian Mountain Melodies,” material that Grieg also availed himself of for several of his works. In fact Svendsen’s No. 1 Norwegian Rhapsody and Grieg’s No. 3 Symphonic Dance use the same theme from the collection of Lindeman melodies. The 40+ minutes for the (4) rhapsodies are everything one might imagine of country life in Norway. A tranquil setting, folk dancing, a romantic interlude, mountain streams, and picturesque landscape are all things that come to mind when you listen to this music. These are pleasant and easy to listen to with melodies and orchestral arranging showing his strong command.

“Romeo and Juliet” ranks near the top of stories that have been put to music by composers and the Svendsen treatment while not as strong a work as Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, and Prokofiev it still depicts the romance and tragedy of lost love in a short overture. Svendsen wrote this work after the 1st Rhapsody and before the 2nd in 1876. The premiere of the work was only met with mild enthusiasm, perhaps because it wasn’t what audiences really expected.

“Zorahayda” is a true program work, which is based on a Washington Irving story The Legend of the Rose of the Alhambra that tells the story of a Moorish princess and her love for a Christian knight. This is quite the delicate work offering solo violin, oboe, horn and pizzicato from the strings in an easy to listen to style. It seems to be well suited to the slightly smaller size South Jutland Symphony Orchestra. Bjartre Engeset certainly has the feel for conducting Scandinavian type music. His enthusiasm is definitely translated to the recording.

While we couldn’t classify Johan as an unknown composer he is certainly rarely if ever performed. This CD, along with Naxos 8.553898, his two symphonies are ones to be explored. Recommended.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2009

That Johan Svendsen’s highly attractive scores have only managed to hold a place in the fringe of the concert repertoire is one of music’s more inexplicable examples of neglect.  It seems the good-luck that followed him in his younger years was slowly to turn against him as life progressed. He had followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a Norwegian military musician, but later lived and studied in Germany where he became known as an outstanding conductor. Oslo was, for his taste, a musically impoverished city, and much of his life was spent outside of his homeland. Yet many see him as a nationalist composer largely by virtue of his four Norwegian Rhapsodies, though even there they were conceived from less than altruistic reasons, the idea stemming from the success Liszt was enjoying with the Hungarian Rhapsodies, a fact that encouraged so many composers. All four were composed in the twelve months that ended early in 1877. They were rather a byproduct of folk music, light in mood and texture and having dance-like characteristics. From the same period Romeo and Juliet concentrates on the love rather than dramatic aspects of the story. The disc is completed by Zorahayda based on the story of love between a Christian knight and a Moorish princess, though there are precious few exotic colours in the score. The South Jutland Symphony play superbly for Bjarte Engeset, the strings having a nice bright sound, and the brass vibrant but never strident. Recorded sound is exemplary.

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