The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Peter Herrestal (violin) Catherine Bullock (viola) Øystein Birkeland (cello) Dan Styffe (double bass) Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Rolf Gupta, Peter Szilvay
Composer: Ness

The music of the contemporary Norwegian composer Jon Øivind Ness is marked by a strong engagement with pop and rock techniques – pounding rhythms, strong melodies, blocks of strikingly characterised textures – and while it sounds at times like Frank Zappa’s ‘classical’ works, the heavy dissonances and virtuosic solo lines also bring in shades of Louis Andriessen. Three of the pieces on this engaging new disc spotlight string players. In the cello concerto Wet Blubber Soup (2002) (its title an enigmatic reference to the Godley and Creme song Wet Rubber Soup), soloist Øystein Birkeland battles heroically against ear-rattling hockets in the orchestra and plays with a confident, sometimes aggressive tone, rising to the piece’s challenges magnificently. In Mad Cap Tootling (2003), solo violinist Peter Herresthal is impressive when his line soars above the orchestra, but he sometimes gets lost in the thick, dense textures, not helped by his light, thin tone and rather self-effacing playing.

The chamber work Gust (2005), for double bass and viola, provides a welcome contrast with its dark, introspective atmosphere, and it’s given a compelling performance, full of giddy microtones and threatening rumblings, by Catherine Bullock and Dan Styffe. The Oslo Philharmonic is committed and incisive throughout, not least in the disc’s final work, Low Jive (2007), and sound is warm, generous and clear.

David Kettle