I was very interested when this arrived. Ole Bull (1810-80) was one of the leading violin virtuosos of the 19th Century and the greatest Norwegian violinist. Bull also was keen to acquire some of the finest Italian violins, and one of these is played here, a Grand Pattern Nicolo Amati made in 1647. The program he has assembled is music that Bull either wrote or might have played.
Several pieces by Bull are here, mostly for unaccompanied violin. Several imitate the folk style of the hardanger fiddle, a Scandinavian type of violin with sympathetic strings. This interest in national style is to be expected of one of the leading romantics of his era. The longest work by Bull is an unaccompanied work that was actually completed by Skaerved. This is the American Fantasy, which contains variations on the tunes ‘Jordan’s a Hard Road to Travel’, ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’, ‘Arkansas Traveler’, ‘Home Sweet Home’, and ‘Yankee Doodle! These are an occasion for the kind of pyrotechnics that Bull, an heir to the traditions of Paganini, was famous for. There is one work by Bull, ‘Et Saeterbesog’ (Mountain Vision), that has piano accompaniment. Here the vio¬lin again imitates the hardanger fiddle. There is also a work by Grieg, arranged by the French virtuoso Emile Sauret, as seems appropriate. ‘Digterens Hjerte’ (The Poet’s Heart) is a reflective piece. Grieg said it was Bull who made him want to write truly Nordic music. Bull certainly showed the way with his fairly direct appropriation of hardanger fiddle style. Mr Skaerved was wise to include Mozart’s Vio¬lin Sonata K 301. Bull loved Mozart and often played his music in recital.
This release is an interesting exploration of music that was or might have been played by one of the great romantic artists on one of his prized violins. The Amati is obviously excellent and sounds fine on all strings and all registers. It had spent much of the last century locked in a bank vault. It is in an unusually fine state of preservation owing to its lack of use. It is good to be able to hear it again playing the music that so many heard from it when it was played by its greatest owner.