Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Between the Seasons: Vivaldi and Henning Kraggerud from the Arctic

Between the Seasons - Kraggerud, Vivaldi - SIMAX
Vivaldi, Kraggerud Between the Seasons; Henning Kraggerud, Artic Phiharmonic Chamber Orchestra; SIMAX Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 20 2017 Star rating: 4.0
A performance of Vivaldi's concertos full of fantasy, interleaved with Kraggerud's own pieces

The Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra is one of Europe's newest (founded 2009) and most Northerly orchestras (it is based in Tromsø, in Northern Norway). On this engaging disc from Simax, the orchestra and its artistic director, composer and violinist Henning Kraggerud, perform Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. But as with many other recent versions of these concertos, there is a twist; under the title Between the Sheets, Kraggerud and the orchestra interleave Vivaldi's concertos with four of Kraggerud's own works.

Kraggerud's pieces. Preghiera, Postlude in B flat minor from Equinox, the last leaf - Magnus in Memoriam and Victimae Paschali, are all pre-existing works but have been carefully chosen and the whole forms a remarkably satisfying cycle.

We begin with Vivaldi's Spring and we immediately notice the engagingly bouncy performance from the orchestra.
Kraggerud's violin solo is sweet  toned and his performance full of vivid changes of character. This is a chamber performance, but not a period one, yet it is brim-full of character. The slow movement sees Kraggerud displaying an elegant sense of line and imaginatively decorating it too, and the baring dog violas are quite wonderful. The finale is rustic and rumbustious, the strings slide in and there are drum effects but never too much. And Kraggerud's solo is fine-grained.

Kraggerud's Preghiera was commissioned by the Brodsky Quartet and premiered by them in 2011. A prayer for mercy before Vivadli's summer storms, and Kraggerud's piece ends with he same two notes that start the Vivaldi concerto. Quietly strings evoke the influence of Arvo Part, whist the solo violin contributes rhapsodic moments, and the whole alternates the quietly intense and the vividly dramatic.

This alternation contiues into Vivaldi's Summer, where the intimate opening is followed by an agressively articulated violin solo. There is a sense of freedom in the way Kraggerud treats these alternations of mood. The slow movement has a solo line as just an elegantly decorated thread, but with threatening hints from the orchestra with a finale which is fast and vivid, full of spectacular descending scales and strong articulations.

Kraggerud's  next piece, the Postlude in B flat minor from Equinox marks the Autumn equinox in our sequence, originally one of 24 postludes premiered by the Northern Lights Festival in 2014. It is lyrical and intimate, thoughtful but a little spiky too.

Autumn opens with rumbustious strings and Kraggerud's rhapsodic solo played with an imaginative freedom which characterises the whole disc. Kraggerud never jazzes up the notes, he remains ture to both the ltter and spirit of Vivaldi's music, whilst interpreting it with a sense of freedom, imagination and fantasy which is completely engaging. The slow movement here is hushed and atmospheric, leading to a crisp and rumbustious dance for the finale.

Kraggerud's the last leaf follows, written in memory of Kraggerud's cousin Maganus Rostadmo, composer and musician, lyrical and rather bittersweet, the slightly romantic sound-world is redolent of many earlier Nordic composers, the middle section develops into a very Sibelius-like dance, before the quiet intimacy of the opening returns, leading us into Winter. This opens sul ponticello, full of vivid excitement and many different timbres and colours. A beautifully sung slow movement is followed by a crisply exciting finale.

Finally Kraggerud's Victimae Paschale, written in 2010, a piece which exists in a number of different versions. Based on a setting of the Latin Easter Sequence, a liyrical and beautifully sung piece, full of rich harmonies.

I enjoyed this disc immensely, Kraggerud and the orchestra bring engaging charm to Vivaldi's concertos, playing with a sense of fantasy that never falls into the trap of recomposing, and Kraggerud's own pieces beautifully complement the Vivaldi, making a satisfying whle.

The CD booklet also includes a fascinating article by Erik Fosnes Hansen, which is the first time I have come across someone linking the 18th century Little Ice Age with the weather depicted in Vivaldi's concertos.

An engaging and thoughtful disc.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - The Four Seasons
Henning Kraggerud (born 1973) - Preghiera
Henning Kraggerud - Postlude in B flat minor from Equinox
Henning Kraggerud - the last leaf - Magnus in Memoriam
Henning Kraggerud - Victimae Paschali
The Artic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra
Henning Kraggerud (director/violin)
Knut Johannessen (harpsichord)
Petter Richter (guitar and theorbo)
Recorded 15-19 August 2016, in Gronnasen kirke, Tromso
SIMAX Classics PSC1356
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