“If Valen (1887-1952) had not been such a shy, self-effacing person, he would have won fame throughout Europe.” So said Issay Dobrowen, a prominent conductor in the inter-war period, and chief conductor from 1927 to 1931 of Oslo’s Filharmonisk Selskaps Orkester (predecessor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra). The path to fame was indeed uphill for Norway’s leading modernist. However, Valen’s diffidence was not the only reason for this – another was his chosen musical language, which grew out of the twelve-tone method of composition associated with Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. By writing this sort of music, albeit with his own highly personal stamp, he was asking for trouble in the conservative world of Norwegian music.
The beauty and profundity of Valen’s subdued but expressive music is being discovered by more and more listeners. Valen’s reputation as one of Norway’s foremost composers and as a pioneer of new music in the 20th century is now secure. The legendary pianist Glenn Gould recognized the importance of Valen’s music, saying “For the first time in many years I have found a looming personality in the 20th century’s music”
Hansakvartetten (The Hansa Quartet) was formed in 1987 by musicians from the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. The current members of the quartet are Åsta Jørgensen and Hilary Foster (violins), Helga Steen (viola), and Walter Heim (cello).
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