Norwegian Music for String Orchestra - music of Grieg, Kvandal, Nystedt, Gruner-Hegge / Ensemble Allegria


This album of Norwegian music for string orchestra from Lawo Classics was released in the fall of 2013. I put off listening to it for several months, mostly because the opening piece on the program, Edvard Grieg's Holberg Suite, Op. 40, is a work not really aligned to the 'discovery' facet of Expedition Audio. I finally did play it recently and thoroughly enjoyed the exceptionally refined performance of Grieg's beloved suite, as well as the three other works for string orchestra on the program. The title of this album is also the name of the string orchestra, Ensemble Allegria.

Ensemble Allegria ('Allegria' being Italian for merriment, enjoyment) is a group of players in their early 20's lead by Concertmaster Maria Angelika Carlsen. These musicians came together initially as students and the Holberg Suite is the music the group cut its eyetooth on. As stated, their performance of the Grieg is splendid, and so is their playing of the other works, compositions engaging in form and content which are right down the E.A. alley.

These three works are products of 20th century Norwegian composers, all writing in a modern style quite similar to one another in terms of harmonic language and tonality. The first is Sonata for Strings, Op. 79 by Johan Kvandal (1919-1999), and heard right on the heels of Grieg's suite, the opening fierce and biting chords let you know you are in for some altogether different listening. This is followed by Elegiac Melody for Strings by Odd Grüner-Hegge (1899-1973), a lyrical adagio that dissolves into a beautiful silence. The concluding work on the program is Concerto Arctandriae for Strings, Op. 128 by Knut Nystedt (b.1915). You can listen to the concluding Allegro Feroce of this work as the second track of the video appearing in the sidebar. The video opens with the first movement Praeludim from the Holberg Suite, where the youthful Ensemble Allegria proves their mettle. In the video below, you can get to know the group a little more intimately, and hear them in a thrilling extract from Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony.

Concertmaster Carlsen writes "Team spirit, laughter, humor, shared effort, and a common goal - the merging of nineteen ardent souls generates positive energy that can be heard in the music". True enough, I do hear something very special here. So, rediscover Grieg's Holberg Suite in what may be the most nuanced performance you'll ever hear, get to know these three other fine Norwegian works for string orchestra, and learn the story behind the exceptional and vibrant Ensemble Allegria.