David Monrad Johansen: Piano Concerto Op 29. © 2020 Classic Produktion Osnabrück

CD Spotlight

Soft-painted Colours

GERALD FENECH listens to music by
Norwegian composer David Monrad Johansen

'This is brilliantly performed Nordic music with warmth written all over it.'


David Monrad Johansen (1888-1974), like Elvind Groven and a host of other Norwegian composers, is considered to be one of the mainstays in the field of music during the interwar years. He received his education in today's Oslo, beginning in 1904 at the local conservatory. Subsequently, he continued his studies in foreign capitals, mostly in Paris and Berlin, and these lasted well into the 1930s. A corresponding diversity shaped his development which had its point of departure in Grieg's late Romanticism, and enriched this foundation with elements of original Norwegian folk music, Impressionism and Neoclassicism.

During his somewhat turbulent career, Johansen was one of the country's most prominent music critics and this, added to his meddling in politics, did not leave him much time for composition. Indeed, his catalogue of works displays only some thirty-six opus numbers as well as a dozen unnumbered compositions from various periods. A meagre return for a person who died aged eighty-five.

Unfortunately, with the onset of war, the composer got trapped between two stools. He either had to oppose the German occupation of Norway (1940-45) or to lend it support. Sadly, he chose the latter by joining the Norwegian Fascist Party and played an important role to the extent that he exercised official functions in state-regulated cultural life. When the War was over he paid a high price for this so-called 'betrayal'. On 9 May 1945, one day after the official end of the War, he was arrested and subsequently charged with collaborating with the enemy. He was sentenced to five and a half years in prison, a monetary fine and the loss of all official rights for ten years. On appeal, the sentence was reduced to four years' hard labour. By the summer of 1948 he was a free man. Despite this bitter episode, Johansen was rehabilitated and today his works are regarded as an essential part of Norwegian twentieth century symphonic music.

Composed in 1955, the Piano Concerto displays the traditional three-movement structure and classical formula models. Still, what really stands out is the dramatic discourse between piano and orchestra that gives the piece a truly great sense of balance.

Listen — David Monrad Johansen: Presto (Piano Concerto Op 29)
(track 3, 0:00-0:49) © 2020 Classic Produktion Osnabrück :

The Symphonic Poem Pan is a showcase of Johansen's mastery in orchestral colouration based on Richard Strauss' works and French Impressionism.

Listen — David Monrad Johansen: Symphonic Poem Pan
(track 4, 4:12-5:07) © 2020 Classic Produktion Osnabrück :

The Symphonic Variations and Fugue (1944-46) were subjected twice to revisions in 1959 and 1964, and the piece owes its creation to German and French influences as well as a number of neo-classical elements.

Listen — David Monrad Johansen: Symphonic Variations and Fugue
(track 12, 10:06-10:55) © 2020 Classic Produktion Osnabrück :

The 'Epigrams on Norwegian Motifs' is clearly embedded in Norwegian folk music where the composer harmonized the melodies in his characteristic manner, while enriching them with soft-painted colours and the sumptuous technique of his detailed orchestration.

Listen — David Monrad Johansen: Romanze (Epigrams on Norwegian Motifs)
(track 11, 0:49-1:47) © 2020 Classic Produktion Osnabrück :

This is brilliantly performed Nordic music with warmth written all over it. Sound and notes are first-rate.

Copyright © 9 June 2020 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta







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