Ole Hjellemo’s Music Returns After Long Hiatus

Ole Hjellemo came from a modest background in rural Norway. He became one of the country’s most important composers and music instructors. Parts of his biography are murky.

Hjellemo was steeped in Norwegian folk traditions. He regularly performed at weddings and parties as a teenager in Dovre. 

He joined the military as a bandsman and rose to the rank of lieutenant. Hjellemo’s earliest compositions were for military bands and many arrangments of folk tunes. 

Then in 1912, at age 49, he produced a symphony. It was possibly his first orchestral work. It was well-received by audiences, but not by critics. He returned to the form in 1926, and this time both audiences and critics agreed — it was a masterwork. And yet it only had one additional performance. Until now. 

This is the world-premiere recording of the work. And I’m glad Sterling took the chance. Hjellemo’s musical language is shaped by his background. His melodies, for lack of a better description, sound Norwegian.

Symphony No. 2 in B minor is a large-scale composition, running about 48 minutes. But it’s a well-organized one. Hjellemo uses his motifs effectively and efficiently. Hjellemo wrote five symphonies in all. This one whetted my curiosity for the others.

We don’t know the origins of Hjellemo’s violin concerto. It appeared on a 1934 program for the Philharmonic Company Orchestra. It was one of three of Hjellemo’s works he was conducting. The concerto’s compact and succinct. Hjellemo packs a lot into it, including material recycled from an earlier string quartet. 

I think it all works quite well. Christopher Tun Andersen turns in an energetic performance and a lyrical one at that. 

The Makris Symphony Orchestra directed by Jorn Fossheim is in fine form. Hjellemo’s second symphony is a big piece, using an expanded orchestra. The Makris SO rises to the occasion. Their playing imbues the symphony with the grandeur Hjellemo intended.

Ole Hjellemo: Violin Concerto; Symphony No 2 in B minor
Christopher Tun Andersen, violin
Makris Symphony Orchestra; Jorn Fossheim, conductor
Sterling CDS 1128

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