"…a disc full of surprises."
Uno Vesje, harp. Audio Records, 2017.
If Angles of Angeles captures the complexity of the city of Los Angeles, both its bustling and crowded nature constantly on the go and its dreamy past of movie moguls and pioneers, Oslo(ve) was born in a place that is hurtling inexorably towards its cutting edge future. Norwegian harpist and composer Uno Vesje lives in Europe’s fastest growing city, Oslo. Even the neighborhood where he works, “Barcode,” sounds futuristic. Not without controversy, marketers of this redevelopment have preferred the name “The Opera Quartet,” but taking one look at the shape of the multi-use high rise buildings built on a former industrial-use area, the name “Barcode” fits.
It is by design, that the architects used the name as they strived to create a cityscape that is geometric, light and airy, and distinctive, just like Vesje’s musical landscape of Oslo, minus all the noise, disruption, and headaches of construction. The title track, which takes its name from the hashtag #oslo(ve)—is a five-movement suite for solo harp, strings, and flute. The prelude is subtitled “Karl Johan,” Oslo’s main street with distinctly older architecture than the Barcode ’hood. Vesje takes you from the Royal Castle into the city, as the flute gently plays the national anthem seemingly from a distance, the harp spreading magic dust to remind us we aren’t in Oslo of the 1840s anymore. Spinning out an exotic-flavored theme, it suggests the multicultural aspects of this city by the sea. Fog rolls in every morning in Oslo, and Vesje has the strings gently roll into our consciousness as he punctuates with a buzz, asserting the ever-present acoustic of buildings being built. Vesje’s tone painting is a delight as he leaves the morning’s work for a break at Kaffebrenneriet, lazily watching sparrows fighting over crumbs. They argue, hop from table to table, and finally move along lightly chirping. The final movement sings the praises of Oslo’s Aker River that, even in an expanding and growing city, retains its natural charm.
Vesje maintains the calm nature of the album by including only the slow movement from his Harp Concerto No. 1. The superb supporting musicians deserve a nod: flutist Tom Ottar Andreassen, violinists Edward Daniel and Siri Einen, violist Marthe Grimsrud Husum, cellist Ulrikke Henninen, and bassist Inga Margrethe Aas. Their ensemble blend and luscious tones provide a soft bed of silky refinement for Vesje to present his fine layers of sound. I found Preludeno. 1 to be the loveliest of all in a disc full of surprises. If you want a city tour without the hassle of an overseas flight on a crowded plane, simply pop in this disc and fall in love with Oslo through Vesje’s eyes and ears. •
Alison Young is a classical music host and producer at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media.