> KARLSEN String Quartets [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Kjell Mørk KARLSEN (born 1947)

String Quartet No.1 Op.66 (1985)
String Quartet No.3 Op.121 (1998)
Sonata Mesto Op.96 (1990)a
Sonata Nova Op.101 (1992)b
Sonata Dolorosa Op.108 (1994)c
Vertavo String Quartet (Øyvor Vollea, Berit Varnes Cardas, violin; Henninge Båtnes Landaas, violab; Bjørg Værnes, celloc); Gonzalo Moreno (piano)abc
Recorded: Lommedalen Church, January 1999
AURORA ACD 5007 [72:41]


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Organist, oboe and recorder player, Karlsen is also a composer with a sizeable body of works to his credit. His large output includes much choral music, sacred and profane, as well as five symphonies, several concertos, choral-orchestral works and a great number of chamber works. His music has been much influenced both by his musical background and by his performing activities, but also by his close contacts with Finn Mortensen through whom he approached serial music. Some of his earlier works, such as the Magnificat 2, the Third Symphony and the First String Quartet Op.66, bear the imprint of serialism.

The String Quartet No.1 Op.66, composed in 1985 and revised ten years later, is the earliest work here. It is in three movements (Fragmentum, Medium and Fugatum). As implied by its title, Fragmentum alternates a number of isolated fragments, outbursts and softer sections, without any real attempt at development. Medium is a nervous Scherzo. The final Fugatum is a powerful fugal Finale bringing the piece to an impressive conclusion. As a whole, the First String Quartet is a serious and substantial work.

The other works in this cross-section are all more recent and clearly reflect Karlsen’s progress towards renewed simplicity without really relinquishing his main characteristics. The Violin Sonata "Mesto" Op.96 of 1990 is also in three movements (but, curiously enough, the present recording has the first two movements only): a prologue and an epilogue (not recorded here) framing a central movement Nostalgi in which Karlsen quotes a traditional Norwegian tune.

The Sonata Nova Op.101 (1992), for viola and piano, is a single movement design falling into several clearly delineated sections. This is a more austere, introspective work well suited to the warmly lyrical voice of the viola. It also has its moments of energy and even of violence; and, as a whole, it is a virtuoso work but also a heartfelt, communicative piece of music, and – to my mind – a worthwhile addition to the viola’s limited repertoire.

Much of the same could be said about the beautifully lyrical Sonata Dolorosa Op.108 for cello and piano completed in 1994. It is also a single movement structure with four contrasted sections, the last of which is a deeply felt and moving Lento of great expressive beauty.

The String Quartet No.3 Op.121, completed in 1998, is thus the most recent piece here. Again, it is a concise single movement in three sections; and a further example of Karlsen’s recent, simplified style, though there is nothing minimalist about the music. The notes’ writer, who knows much better than I do about Karlsen’s music, mentions that Karlsen’s newly found simplicity is akin to Pärt’s limited, but expressive techniques. I for one tend to disagree, at least when judging by what the works recorded here demonstrate. Karlsen’s music is never as austere as any of Pärt’s.

Excellent performances and recordings, and a worthwhile selection of Karlsen’s superbly crafted, communicative and basically lyrical music. Well worth investigating.

Hubert Culot

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