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Stein – Erik Olsen: The Fifties and Now: CD

LEO BROUWER: Quintet (1957) for guitar and string quartet: KETIL HVOSLEF: Troika for two guitars and percussion (2019): MARIO CASTELNUOVO – TEDESCO: Quintet Op143 (1950) for guitar and string quartet.

Stein – Erik Olsen (gtr) with Egil Haugland (2nd gtr) , Trond Gjelsten Dale (Percussion), Ricardo Odriozola ( violin), Mara Haugen (Violin), Ilza Klava ( viola) and Ragnhild Sannes ( Cello)


Norwegian guitarist Stein – Erik Olsen is perhaps one of the most well – known guitarists the world has today, and here he has produced a fascinating CD with three large works all involving other instruments, two from the 1950s and one from 2019, hence the title!

He begins with Leo Brouwer’s Quintet from 1957, set in three movements and written when this famous guitarist/composer was just 17.As with many of his works there is plenty of modern harmonies but always with other influences, as here with the use of many African /Cuban sounds, and of the Pentatonic. His guitar writing has always been hugely important throughout his long life and his multiple pieces many of which have become rightfully well – known and loved by myriad of players and listeners. Of course with Brouwer being a player too, they are always very guitaristic, if not often very easy to play. The opening Allegro’s music is often based around 4ths, and to a certain extent the open strings of the guitar. The slow movement is a moving and reflective piece of writing with some lovely harmonies whilst the final Allegro Vivace finishes the work of very successfully with its off – beat swingy rhythms and the slightly blues inspired music.

The new work is by a composer whom I have never come across before, born in Bergen in Norway in 1939. Not a guitarist, but a pianist and a violist he has written a number of guitar works , mostly recorded by Olsen, and as a result, he knows the guitar well, and has received many commissions to write for it. This latest work Troika is a complex and lengthy work at a little more than eighteen and a half minutes in length that is immediately mysterious in its sound world, the inspiration for which came from the Russian Troika, or sleigh pulled by three horses, where apparently the middle horse does the majority of the pulling, and the two outside horses have to gallop considerably faster to keep up. The liner notes explain that he brings in the percussion as the middle horse and the two guitars as the other two, with the percussion written to,, at times prevent the two guitars from moving too freely. This intriguing idea is brought in via some modern music but not too atonal, thus creating a piece that is unusual, not at all derivative, but still fascinating to hear.

The final work is by surely one of the most significant guitar composers of the 20th Century, his works written by a man who could not play the guitar, and yet played by the vast majority of working players. The longest piece of the CD at just over 24 minutes, this four movement Quintet has been recorded many times before but this latest recording is surely one of the finest. The opening Allegro, vivo e schietto, has a dancing theme that occurs in many different guises throughout and really starts the work on an optimistic note. There is a contrasting theme later on in the movement but the vibrant opening theme does dominate. The Andante Mesto begins with the Quartet, a huge contrast to the first and full of lyricism throughout. The third movement Allegro con Spirito – alla Marcia is a Scherzo that jumps around and is very animated throughout. It has two different Trios that really do help to provide some contrasting material in this friendly sound – world. It is a flighty movement that never sits still for very long. The finale is an Allegro con Fuoco Rondo again full of life and including several places where counterpoint is used to great effect. The coda is extremely effective and a convincing close to what is one of the composer’s most important works

This whole recording is wonderful, with three important and substantial works that deserve repeated plays on any music lover’s CD player. The actual performing by all concerned is second to none and as a result I can heartily recommend this as one of the best CDs you will buy this year.

Chris Dumigan

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