Pianist Elena Toponogova and violinist Elisabeth Turmo have recently released their debut album titled “Fairy Tales”. Both of them are graduates of the Royal College of Music. Elena recently won the prize for the best performance of a Prelude and Fugue by J.S. Bach at the Nuova Coppa International Piano Competition in Italy. Elisabeth Turmo is a Norwegian violinist who has staged as a soloist in various famous ensembles. She is known for her stage presence, singing tone quality, and the fiery temperament of a Northern Norwegian. The album features compositions written for violin and piano inspired by myth, legend, and folklore. In this interview, Elena and Elisabeth talk about the inspiration behind their unique ideas.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade, Op. 35 (arr. F. Kreisler) – IV. Oriental Dance (Elisabeth Turmo, violin; Elena Toponogova, piano)
Hi Elena and Elisabeth, how do you know each other, and how long have you been playing together?
Elisabeth: We met during our studies at the Royal College of Music in London in 2015. We noticed that we had a good musical and personal connection, and it felt easy and effortless to play together. Since then, we have been playing numerous concerts together.
Elena: I was looking for someone to play chamber music with, and that’s how we met. We gradually started playing more as a duo and what amazed me the most was how we were able to understand each other without words.
Fairy Tale op. 26 No. 3 by Nikolai Medtner
Your latest album, “Fairy Tales,” features music inspired by or connected to myth, legend, and folklore. How did you come up with this idea? When you were looking for repertoires that fit into the “fairy tale” criteria, did you already have some repertoire in your mind?
Elisabeth: For the CD we collected our favourite pieces among the music we played together and many of them had stories and fairy tales connected to them. Often during our concerts, we tell these stories before we play and the audience finds it very exciting.
Elena: It was very interesting to discover Norwegian music and its connection to fairy tales. Elisabeth introduced me to music by Bull and Halvorsen and I showed her the pieces I knew: Zimbalist’s and Frolov’s Fantasies. We found Kreisler’s arrangements of “Scheherazade” later, which complemented the theme of the album.
Did you grow up with fairy tales? What is your favourite fairy tale?
Igor Frolov: Concert Fantasy on Themes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Op. 19 (Elisabeth Turmo, violin; Elena Toponogova, piano)
Elena: I grew up with Pushkin’s Fairy Tales. These are fairy tales that you normally read at primary school and I remember learning by heart some fragments from the Tales. My grandfather read “The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish” to me, which is one of my favourites. One of the pieces on the album “The Golden Cockerel” is based on Pushkin’s Fairy Tale with the same title.
I also enjoyed reading Andersen’s and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Elisabeth: My favourite fairy tale must be Disney’s The Swan Princess. I just loved that movie and I dreamt of wearing the beautiful dresses that the princess had and it was as if I was transported into the movie while watching it as a child.
Can you share the story of one or two fairy tales from this album?
Elisabeth: One of the pieces on the album is called “Fanitullen” which means ‘the devil’s tune’. There is a story connected to the Fanitullen; once upon a time, there was a wedding in Hol (a place in Norway), where two young men got into a fight. The kitchen chef went downstairs to fetch a beer and while he was down there, he saw a man sitting on the beer keg with a fiddle, playing a tune he had never heard before. The man held the fiddle the opposite way, with the fiddle’s neck towards his chest, and tapped the barrel with a horse’s hoof which he had in place of his left foot. It was clear that this was the devil. The kitchen chef ran back up again and found one of the fighters lying dead in the yard.
Johan Halvorsen: Fossegrimen, Op. 21 – V. Fanitullen (Elisabeth Turmo, hardanger fiddle)
Do you have some upcoming performances you want to share with us?
Elisabeth: We have a couple of concerts planned; the first one is at St Peter’s Marlborough, UK, in February 2024, and later in Oban, Scotland, in 2025.
We live in different cities. I’m based in Oslo, and Elena lives in London, but we always stay in touch and meet to rehearse and perform together as often as possible.
For more of the best in classical music, sign up for our E-Newsletter