When the young flautist Arvid Kleven arrived in Oslo in the late 1910s, the music scene was still dominated by the spirit - or ghost - of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). In spite of a certain interest among younger composers for the music of Debussy and other French 'Impressionists', it was generally thought that Norwegian music ought to have a specifically Norwegian character and that it should 'gloriously defend the name of Norway'. Self-taught as a composer, Kleven at the age of 23 produced Lotusland, his first orchestral work, and was praised as a master of orchestration - but his Impressionistic leanings were noted and commented upon. Written shortly thereafter, Skogens søvn incorporates certain avant-garde tendencies and shows Kleven starting on a path towards expressionism. Skogens søvn was savaged by the critics, but Kleven stuck to his course. As a result, the 1926 première of his next work, Symphonic Fantasy, turned into the greatest musical scandal of the decade, with reviewers saying that the piece 'hurt the eardrums' and was 'disgustingly ugly'. Apparently unbowed, Kleven left for a study leave in Berlin, where he composed the first part of his projected Sinfonia Libera in due parte. Its première in 1927 was accompanied by the now familiar chorus of criticism. Falling ill, Arvid Kleven died just before his 30th birthday in 1929, and during some 80 years neither the Symphonic Fantasy nor the Sinfonia Libera was performed again. Bringing these striking early examples of Norwegian expressive modernism to light again are Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, who through highly regarded recordings of the orchestral works of Harald Sæverud, Geirr Tveitt and Fartein Valen have done much for Norwegian 20th-century music. Conducting them is the internationally acclaimed Susanna Mälkki, the orchestra's former artistic director.
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