The Norwegian violinist Ole Bull (1810-1880) is often called “the Nordic Paganini”. Wherever he played, he held audiences spellbound with his incredible technique and personal charisma. In his native Norway he is revered first and foremost for his pioneering and dynamic role in the movement for a national identity in the fields of music and the dramatic arts. Bull recognized Henrik Ibsen’s and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s potential as dramatists, and gave them indispensable opportunities to advance their careers at his Norwegian theatre in Bergen. He held Norwegian folk music in as high esteem as he did European classical music, and he incorporated national melodies in his compositions to portray Norwegian nature and life, for example in Norges Fjelde and Vilspel i Lio.
This recording, a sequel to the album that violinist Annar Follesø and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra released in 2010, features compositions that have only been played by Ole Bull himself, and which therefore have not been heard since his death in 1880. Largo posato e Rondò capriccioso (1841) and Fantasy on “Lilly Dale” (1872) are not just examples of Bull’s international style – they also bear witness to his stamina as performer and virtuoso. The s urviving musical manuscripts are incomplete, but Wolfgang Plagge, with his intimate knowledge of Bull’s composition technique, and in collaboration with Annar Follesø, has been able to reconstruct the music.
Total time: 00:57:25
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Annar Folles, Eun Sun Kim, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Wolfgang Plagge
Horus, Merging Technologies
Pyramix, Merging Technologies
Norsk Kulturråd, Fond for Utøvende Kunstnere and Fond for Lyd og Bilde
|Original Recording Format|
Trond S. Hellstrom on C Bechstein Concert C234 Piano
|Power Line Conditioner||
JMF Audio PCD302
Jar Church, Norway in June 2018
Pyramix, Merging Technologies
|Recording Type & Bit Rate||
|Release Date||March 6, 2020|
I hardly know anything else about Ole Bull’s music other than beautiful tunes like Sæterjentens Sunday. The leap from this simple style of Bull as a performer, to the great virtuoso, to the myth of who he was, which, by the way, is not a myth but a real understanding of his role in history, is great. His reputation and popularity were enough for him to “go on long tours in Europe and America.”
I hope now that it shines through the rows that Annar Follesø does an excellent job with the instrumental acrobatics of Bull. He mastered the double and triple grips, and he likes to play all four strings of the instrument. He throws himself carefree from deep core tones to glissandi with flakeolets or to sky-high melody tones. He has also taken part in the reconstruction work of the violin solo voices on this album.
However, Wolfgang Plagge did most of the work to restore Ole Bull’s work. We can talk about a piece of compositional work in Bull’s virtuoso style. Of the works on the album, only Largo posato e Rondò capriccioso was present in the finished score.
The work is a practical piece of music history writing. We get to hear sounds that would otherwise be lost, and we expand our understanding of Ole Bull’s greatness as a virtuoso.
Naturally, the Norweigan Broadcast Orchestra under Eun Sun Kim must also be highlighted. Together they have the flexibility required to fold between the expressions of the alternating symphonic poems. And of course, 2L should have a pat on the shoulder to once again take us so clean and close to the sound of a performance.
For me, this album gave a real boost of mood here in my quarantine. It is wonderful to hear familiar tunes in a new costume, hear completely unknown material, and not least is this a celebration of the instrumental art that you just have to laugh with.
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The first question that crossed my mind was: why didn’t I know about it? I have shelves and shelves of music, but none of Ole’s. Not even his violin concerto. Forgotten, kept a secret for Norwegians only? I find it difficult to see why. It’s melodious, it’s romantic, it’s not bad at all. Perhaps not quite the same genius as his fellow countryman, Edvard Grieg, but miles better than some other ‘discoveries’.
As may be evident from Schumann’s nick-name, Bull was a talented violinist and some of his repertoire was, like Paganini’s, written for his personal use. No easy fiddler’s stuff, therefore. All the more reason to admire the Norwegian violinist, Annar Follesø, new to me as well. Technically supreme and with a silken tone and a clear grasp on the virtuosity of the score in the first stage of the journey through Bull’s life: ‘Largo posato e Rondò capriccioso’.
In conclusion: A most enjoyable and rewarding programme of unusual repertoire that merits wider acknowledgment. Try it out for yourself.
Classic CD Blog
Ole Bull (1810-1880) was a Norwegian superstar in the music heaven, both as a performer and composer. He left behind relatively few works and much is considered lost. And some brilliant things haven’t been heard in 140 years, but Annar Follesø, Wolfgang Plagge and the Broadcasting Orchestra have done something about it.
Ole Bull’s music is in many ways very international, at the same time as it is straight through Norwegian. One could say he succeeds in combining the Norwegian folk tune with international trends. And when he can also be compared to Niccolo Paganini himself – the conditions with this record are the very best.
Reports from Bull’s concerts around tell of women who “died” of excitement – not unlike what Franz Liszt also experienced at their concerts. And yes – Ole Bull and Franz Liszt played together on several occasions – it could have been fun to experience.
Several of the works on this record have undergone extensive reconstruction of Wolfgang Plagge. Both “Norway’s mountains” and “Wild Games in Lio” lacked, among other things, several sides in the scores, as well as large holes in the solo voice. Impressive here that we hear two quite wonderful works for violin and orchestra based on the defective sheet music.
Violinist Annar Follesø is a musician who has really taken a deep dive into Ole Bull’s music. In 2010 he was a soloist on an album with Bull’s two violin concerts, and now – 10 years after that he contributes new wonderful musical contributions to the Norwegian musical heritage. Follesø really gives a good picture of how Bull’s playing in the 19th century was.
Wolfgang Plagge is himself a composer and pianist. His contribution to the record is also as a performer in “Fantasy on Lilly Dale” and “Last Romance”.
The album opens “Largo posato e Rondo Capriccioso” – and although the work underwent a comprehensive revision in the 1870s, we hear it was called a version from 1841. The broadcast orchestra is a stubborn and musical co-lead by Eun Sun Kim. The sound, as usual on a 2L release, is excellent.
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