This is an interesting new release. It features four orchestral compositions by Norwegian composer Arvid Kleven. Kleven was flautist in, what is now Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. Largely self taught as composer, Kleven penned the title work “Lotusland” in 1922 when he was 23 years old while “The Sleeping Forest” dates from 1923. These two compositions, both amply scored, could be easily called tone poems and the titles seem to reveal some influence from England (Arnold Bax pops to mind). “Lotusland” reveals young Kleven as a master of orchestration, a natural talent for this musical form – one can never feel the lack of formal education in this score. Despite being praised by the contemporary Norwegian critics, the piece disappeared from the repertoire even before composer's premature death (Kleven died in 1929, a few days short of his 30th birthday). One of the reasons for this musical injustice could be found in total fiasco of “The Sleeping Forest”. The critics found Kleven's impressionist interests disturbing and completely inappropriate for Norway whose musical scene was still under strong influence of Edward Grieg and his lyricism. Despite this, the composer did not give up his interests as evidenced in Symphonic Phantasy op. 15, written in 1926. In here Kleven mixes (and indeed well-balances) dissonant and powerful episodes with more melodic and lyrical ones. The reception of Phantasy was similar to that of “The Sleeping Forest”: according to the well-written and informative CD notes it was 'the greatest scandal of the decade', with the music being described as 'disgustingly ugly'. The last work, Sinfonia Libera in due parti, op. 19 written while Kleven studied under Schoenberg in Berlin 1926-27 was greeted in the in the same negative spirit after its first performance in 1927.
Truth to be told, at least in my opinion, Sinfonia Libera is probably the least successful work on this CD. Is this the result of Robert Ronnes arrangement, the performance or the work itself? It is hard to say. Maybe Kleven himself was not ready for a strong influence of Berlin school of music. But, whatever is the case, the overall CD is very enjoyable. It offers a unique and not commonly encountered opportunity to meet an unknown yet greatly talented musician and at the same time follow the rapid development of his musical ideas. Despite the change in stylistic interests, his orchestration always remains rock-solid. Ms. Susanna Malkki leads Stavanger Symphony orchestra in well-balanced performance coupled with very good sound quality. They play the music confidently and show that they really believe in it. The two early pieces. “Lotusland” and “The Sleeping Forest” appeared previously on Simax label (catalog number PSC3106) coupled with Kleven's Sonata for violin and piano. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to hear this performance by Norwegian Broadcasting Orchestra under Christian Eggen so I cannot give any comparison. One way or the other, this music is worth hearing – the CD gives you an hour (and a few minutes) of excellent and varied orchestral music by a talented and promising composer whose life was cut tragically short. Recommended!