Music review: A lost concerto is dynamically revived

Melinda Bargreen
Everett, Wash.

As the shouts of “Bravo!” rose in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, symphony-goers turned to each other in amazement and exclaimed, “Wow! Who IS this guy?” It was the Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud, making his Northwest soloist bow in November of 2015 with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and its principal guest conductor, the Danish maestro Thomas Dausgaard. Many of us made a mental note to watch for more Kraggerud musical opportunities.

Now there are opportunities for everyone to hear this dynamic player: a remarkable new CD from this multi-talented musician, who is also a conductor, an artistic administrator (co-director of Norway’s highly regarded Risør Festival), a violin professor, a jazz artist, and a composer. The disc is the premier recording of a “lost” violin concerto by Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935), who was considered one of Norway’s finest violinists, conductors, and composers back in his heyday. The concerto, dedicated to and premiered by the Canadian violinist Kathleen Parlow, disappeared after the premiere (and two repeat performances) and was believed lost for more than a century—until a manuscript copy of the concerto was unearthed in 2016 in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music Library. Parlow, a resident of Toronto, had bequeathed her papers to that university, but the concerto had been separated from the rest of her collection.

When the concerto came to Kraggerud’s attention, he decided to give it a 21st-century premiere at the International Musicological Society’s annual conference in Stavanger, Norway, in 2016. And now comes this new recording on the Naxos Classics label, which pairs the long-lost concerto with Johan Svendsen’s charmingly melodic “Romance” and the pastoral but powerful Nielsen Violin Concerto.

So what does the Halvorsen concerto sound like? It’s surprisingly lovely. The work has a typically 19th-century romantic idiom, and you might mistake it for music of the composer’s more famous countryman, Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)—especially when you hear the lyrical folkdance themes and the Hardanger fiddle effects (energetically rendered by Kraggerud).

This is a lucky revival indeed of the concerto, particularly because it has so long been considered destroyed. Halvorsen had been unhappy with the reception of his work; when he retired in 1929, he burned a number of manuscripts, and his widow later stated that the Violin Concerto was among them. If Kathleen Parlow’s manuscript copy had not been discovered in the Toronto library, the concerto would have been lost forever.

Halvorsen, Nielsen & Svendsen: Music for Violin & Orchestra (Naxos Classics recording). Henning Kraggerud, violin soloist; Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Bjarte Engeset, conductor.

This article originally appeared in the March 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Melinda Bargreen

Melinda Bargreen is a Seattle-based writer and composer whose career at The Seattle Times began in 1977. Her choral works include the “Norwegian Folksong Suite.” Melinda contributes to many publications and is the author of Seattle Opera’s forthcoming 50-year history book. She holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Washington in Seattle, and a doctorate in English from the University of California, Irvine.