Album Title: Kleiberg: Violin Concerto / Double Bass Concerto
Performer: Marianne Thorsen, violin / Göran Sjölin, double bass / Daniel Reuss, conductor / Trondheim Symphony Orchestra
Label: 2L 59
Playing time: 50’59”
Recorded: May 2007 / May 2008


The work that put 1958-born Norwegian composer Ståle Kleiberg on the world stage was his Requiem for the Victims of Nazi Persecution. Originally commissioned by the Nidaros Cathedral of Trondheim and conceived as the finale of his World War Trilogy, the 2002 Trondheim premiere caught the attention of Michael McCarthy, soon-to-be musical director at the Washington Cathedral who eventually brought it to America on September 11, 2004 as commemoration of the 9/11 victims. The performance was broadcast across America and recorded.

Readers who have listened to this monumental work would be impressed by Kleiberg’s musical/interpretational insights on the subject matter (it interweaves the Latin mass with new libretti for the three victim groups of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals); and the sensitive equilibrium he applied to the sentimentality and artistic composure of the work. The one feature I admire most in Kleiberg is his unusual layering of sounds and colors. With this new recording from 2L, I was able to examine and enjoy this feature from another angle at close range.


The violin concerto and the double-bass concerto were composed in 2005 and 1999 respectively. For those who take precautionary stances with unfamiliar modern compositions, there are at least two objective aspects that should help. First, the whole-heartedness of the interpreters not only brings down the wall but takes you right in. Second, the sonic quality (especially the multi-channel SACD illusion) puts you right there among the musicians. This immediacy is lifelike. Above all, it’s the work itself that touches your heart. Both concertos have no programmatic content nor are they intended for any philosophical manifestation. It’s about pure music that is listenable, approachable and logical. It might sound shallow but the length and construction of the works also makes them easy to handle. Each concerto is under 30 minutes and based on the usual well-proportioned and well-paced fast-slow-fast three-movement structure that accommodates intriguing mood changes. Kleiberg’s thematic development is well articulated but never ostentatious. The cadences are snappy and to the point and never elaborated upon for the sake of elaboration.


The violin concerto is an instant pleaser and violinist Marianne Thorsen must be the catalyst. While maintaining her bold broad strokes and purity of tone, she’s so different from her Mozart concertos here. Of course the work is definitely more emotionally gripping and compelling and she gives the neo-romantic lines a well-justified heartfelt lyricism. While the theme modulates spontaneously through the first movement, Kleiberg reshapes the mood through unpretentious changes of rhythm which after a dreamlike glockenspiel passage eventually propels the theme into dynamic vivacity. The center movement is perhaps the best example of the unusual layering of sounds and colors. If you weren’t impressed yet with the involving dialogue between solo violin and oboe/flute duet upfront and recapitulated by bassoon and oboe later, how about the two dramatic tutti at 3:20 and 3:34? Also watch for the inventive treatment where, at 3:48 and 5:00, Kleiberg combines two instruments in unison, marimba and harp pulsated by pianissimo timpani. The two paralleled instruments create a new sound that had my ears and mind befuddled on first hearing. The space between them on the soundstage resonates in a new dimension and even evokes a fairytale atmosphere. The sonic experience is unreal and the effect mesmerizing. After the simple but effective cadenza (6:45), the glockenspiel + harp unison (8:09) brings the movement to a dreamy ending. In no time then, Kleiberg brings up the contrasting final movement with spiky solo passages charging at the brassy siege. The sharp-tongued solo melody is snappy and witty. When echoed by the humorous tuba and other brass members, it reminds me of the Soldier’s Tale by Stravinsky. Pay attention to the fickle violin theme though. It’s actually a derivative of the lyrical motif from the first movement! Thorsen sails through the technically sensational cadenza with agility and makes it seem convincingly improvisational even though each note was scored by Kleiberg.

The double-bass concerto is an earlier work so I wasn’t expecting anything ‘new’. I was pleasantly surprised. After the dramatic introduction accentuated by side drums, soloist Göran Sjölin enters with an intimate interaction with bassoon and with stimulus from various sections builds up a grand statement that could best be described as epic. The transition is short but natural and most effective. The liner notes call this work less romantic and more Nordic than the violin concerto. My sentiment disagrees. To me this is just as romantic, just on a different level. It seems to be heralding something big, with connotations of historical importance. The sonic image is cinematic. Especially the broad thematic swirl at 7:10 is so moving that it reminds me of some biblical movie soundtracks or to a certain extent, Bloch’s Schlomo. Kleiberg again exemplifies orchestrational inventiveness in the two birdsong-like passages at 2:40 – 3:02 and 3:25 – 3:52 (which actually recur at 8:10 towards the end of the movement). The double bass sings flautando against a stardust backdrop of murmuring sul ponticello strings played near the bridge. The moment defies gravity and the feeling is extraterrestrial. This could well be the best example of the sound of silence in music.


The second movement maintains the same biblical evocation and the soloist continues with flautando in the upper registers. The dreamlike theme is reflected on cloudlike woodwinds set against an expansive string horizon. At 3:26 the mood changes as flute and oboe clear up the sky and return everything to earth. The soloist is back on his feet and the double bass is played again in its ‘proper’ register yet in a less expected Don Juan posture, flirting with shimmering pizzicato strings and fluttering arpeggio woodwinds.


In the final movement, the melodic solo line is interspersed with dotted notes that give the movement a rhythmic start. Good-humoured woodwind and brass recall Shostakovich but soon transcribe the humoresque mood into cheerful carnival colors. Orchestral fortitude is in abundance and the double bass is always in good company until the somewhat pensive cadenza at 5:10. Göran Sjölin’s convincing playing makes this unfamiliar work thoroughly enjoyable.

The Trondheim Symphony Orchestra has demonstrated how well virtuosity and musicality can mix on their orchestral palette thanks to Dutch conductor Daniel Reuss whose choral experience has definitely added human touch and well-versed articulation. (He is presently chief conductor of the celebrated Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.) His attention to vocal layering is certainly at home with Kleiberg’s intricate orchestration. As I mentioned earlier, 2L’s sonic expertise is admirable. I made a special request to Morten Lindberg, founder and producer-in-chief, to send me the stage layouts. He responded promptly but reminded me that these were initial plans only and might have been subjected to minor adjustments as the recording progressed. That makes them even more interesting. Golden ears can get an ego boost spotting the changes. When I asked Morten about the biblical element in Kleiberg’s work, he replied: “Ståle is very much concerned with biblical history, religious questions and how they reflect in today’s society. Among his most central works is Requiem for the victims of Nazi persecution. Next year we hope to record his new oratorio David and Batsheba.


That’s something I’d look forward to.