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Gunnar BERG (1909-1989)
Historical Recordings, vol. 2

CD 1
Gaffkys 1-8: (1958-1959) [7:14; 5:35; 7:46; 7:14; 7:03; 8:43; 9:05; 9:00]
CD 2
Gaffkys 9-10 [12:01; 12:27],
Fantaisie (1936 rev. 1968) [9:02]
Toccata-Interludium-Fugue 1938 (rev. 1941) [9:02]
Pierres solaires; Granit (1943) [2:59; 2:06]
Piano Sonata (1947) [13:12]
Béatrice Berg, piano
DANACORD DACOCD 613-614 [62:12 + 60:49]

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Vol. 1 reviewed
Gunnar Berg website:

The Swiss-born Danish composer Gunnar Berg made more progress in Paris than he did in Copenhagen. He became and remained a disciple of the avant-garde but with impressionist leanings. His music is however more Schoenberg than Debussy - much more.

He moved to Paris in 1948 after studying with Herman Koppel (1938-42). In the French capital his maîtres were Honegger and Messiaen. He met and married the pianist Béatrice Duffour (the pianist in these recordings), a pupil of Yves Nat, in 1951. They married the next year and settled at Neuilly sur Mer. He became a respected interpreter of Bartók, Schoenberg, Jolivet, Klebe, Messiaen, Englert, Stockhausen and Boulez. Berg died in Switzerland in 1989.

This valuable Danacord series presents the music of a confident and totally unrepentant advocate of music that is terse, speaks through fragmentation, in which dissonant gestural material predominates but with fleeting moments of allusive tremulous impressionism. The music does not seem so much angry as oppressively atmospheric - rather cool perhaps and sometimes sinister as in Gaffky 8. It is a stranger to melodic outline, to clearly defined pulse or to obvious connective tissue.

The Ten Gaffkys are so-called because the composer was told that the progress of the music recalled the development of microbal cultures. Gaffky was a biologist who established a classification system for microbes. The pieces date from 1958-59 interrupting his writing of the thirteen Eclatements (1954-1988).

After 86 minutes of Gaffkys each running between 5:35 and 12:27 the Fantasy seem almost a salon piece .... almost! Its essence is well captured by its original title of Chaconne with a slightly dissonant theme carried by majestic chords and eleven variants. The piece ends peacefully. The Toccata-Interludium-Fugue softens dissonance with a modicum of busy Bachian flightiness and a weave of ragtime sidling through the pages.

In 1943 Berg wrote a six movement suite called Felspar. We get two of the movements. The complete sequence is Moonstone, Sunstone, Amazonite, Granite, Labradorite, Gneiss. I would have liked to have heard the others. These take us back to the world of the Gaffkys. No prisoners are taken.

The three movement 1947 Sonata was dedicated to his teacher Elisabeth Jürgens. The piece was premiered on French radio by Béatrice Duffour. It is not quite as fundamentalist as the Gaffkys and Felspar pieces but dissonance remains the order of the day. Interest is added by popular dance rhythms leering out at the listener in allusion and through direct statement. There are also gentler emotions at play: the suggestion of Iberian evenings in the middle movement. The notes by Mogen Andersen pick up on references to Gershwin in the finale but miss out on its merciless Bartókian aggression.

The commentary by Jens Rossel, Erik Kaltoft and Mogens Andersen assure us that the notes are distributed according to serial technique but are not treated as twelve tone rows. Berg’s approach is the very antithesis of that of his contemporary Vagn Holmboe whose writings condemned Berg's commitment to a path that Holmboe said had already been discredited by Nielsen.

The music is captured here in excellent beefy mono analogue sound from the composer's own reel-to-reel tapes.

It's a positively catholic world into which this set and its predecessor (Berg Vol. 1 Danacord DACOCD 611-612) have been issued. Listeners can now hear music from this doyen of ivory tower sollipsism alongside tonal-melodic music which during the period 1940-1975 was sneeringly swept into temporary oblivion. You can make up your own mind but if you warm to the piano music of Boulez and Barraqué look no further.

Rob Barnett

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