Alice Musik Produktion of Sweden has an interesting CD catalogue of
early and 20th C. music, all meticulously presented and packaged with
imagination, latterly in book-style cases. Several of those supplied for
review feature the lutenist Peter Söderberg.
Albert de Rippe (d.1551) was born in Mantua and active as a court
lutenist there, later from 1528 in France, from where his travels took him
to England and the court of Henry VIII. He was an innovative composer but
avoided publication to thwart imitators. A substantial body of his music
was published posthumously by Morley & le Roy and influenced Denis Gaultier
and Charles Mouton. De Rippe's pieces are often contrapuntal, highly ornamented
and extended to as long as 10 minutes, three times the usual. The liner notes
by Teddy Hultberg challenge the easy assumption that we can hear this music
with 16 C ears, however dedicated the search towards authenticity. Most listeners
today are more likely to find it cool, though pleasing, and may be reluctant
to turn the volume control down far enough to recapture the sound of this
very private instrument, in many ways ideal for home listening.
The enterprising lutenist Peter Söderberg is an excellent guide
to this rare music. In the two Akantus CDs, Amando &
Desiando, a programme of Spanish & Italian music from the 16th
C. and I'vo piangendo Akantus, music from 17th Century
Italy, Söderberg (lute & vihuela) and Leif Henrikson (viols) are
joined by an individual, pure voiced soprano, Lena Susanne Norin.
These are the CDs of likely widest appeal of those I have sampled.
Large parts of Italy were under Spanish domination and musicians migrated
freely between those countries. Spain preferred the vihuela and guitar, whilst
the rest of Europe preferred the lute, introduced by the Arabs earlier. Many
of the songs collected here are frottole, a generic name for a variety
of poetic forms. Of the composers of the 29 tracks, many are anonymous and
only the names of Tromboncino and Mudarra were known to me, so a complete
track list would be superfluous to the needs of most MusicWeb readers, as
often is the case for CDs of this period.
The later release, of 17th C. Italian music, is my own favourite.
Lena Susanne Norin, supported by Söderberg and Henrikson, wallows
in unhappy love and revels in the elaborate decorative vocal lines of these
extravagances, and the sequence of songs is varied with instrumental duets.
Frescobaldi & d'India are the best known names of the composers featured,
and it is well worth making the acquaintance of Dario Costello, Bellerofonte
Castaldi and Hieronmymous Kapsberger, who has an amazing 7 mins
Toccata. The singing, playing and recording is again of the highest
standard and the packaging is in an inviting plum-covered book with a series
of essays providing a mine of information.
Peter Söderberg has also for Alice Records a disc of 20th C.
lute music, in duo with fellow lutenist Sven Aberg. Mostly the chosen
works are arrangements, of variable success. Cage's early Dream (1948)
originally explored long lines and an atemporal character on the piano. That
is here augmented with interpolations on bass viol. Stockhausen's Tierkreis
(1975) 'for any instruments or singers' have a built in prescription
for repetitions elaborated by the musicians. They are rather dry and I would
not recommend playing all 13 straight through. Steve Reich's Piano Phase
goes through his seminal transformation process slowly, and they probably
go as well on two theorbos as anything, but I found 27 minutes exhausted
my patience long before the end. We are told nothing about Ingvar Karkoff
(b 1958) who contributes two new duets for these players. A range of lutes,
archlutes and theorbos are played in a programme which will be especially
stimulating for other players of early instruments. (It would be good if
it encouraged a similar exploration of the contemporary possibilities for
my own instrument, the clavichord, which shares the lute's precious quietness
and some of its tonal characteristics.)
Schola Buccina is 'the leading trombone ensemble of Sweden'
(we are not told what is the competition). Their programme of short pieces
is, I fear, strictly for trombonists, as monotony inevitably sets in quite
soon for the ordinary listener. There are arrangements of Dufay, via Desprez
and Monteverdi, to ten canons by J S Bach BWV 1087 (a curiosity recently
discovered with the original manuscript of the Goldberg Variations in
France) and Beethoven's Three Equali scored prudently for trombones
on a rainy morning, for outdoor performance at a funeral later that day!
There is also an Improvisation on a Flourish from an opera by one
Torsten Nilsson (b. 1920).
Born the same year was the was the maverick Swedish composer Claude Loyola
ALLGÉN (1920-1990) who produced music over a fifty year span but
never fitted into the Swedish establishment and, according to his pianist
champion's lengthy essay and interview here, was subject to 'malignant slander
bordering on persecution'. Born in Calcutta, living mainly in Stockholm,
Allgén became a devoted converted Catholic who studied theology in
Innsbruck but failed to get ordained. Nearly unmentioned in standard texts
about Swedish music, the remarks of Blomdahl are often quoted: 'a
hyper-intellectual theorist who wrote fugues - - - at nearly unplayable tempi'.
Whenever Mats Persson tried to get a sight of the scores he was confronted
with assertions that they were unplayable.
Persson found him living in extreme poverty and heard his story. Mainly self
taught, he had a few lessons with Hilding Rosenberg, who was less than
enthusiastic. He continued composing indefatigably, antagonising those who
mattered and living in increasing isolation and destitution. He was not admitted
to the Association of Swedish Composers until belatedly in 1973. He died
in a fire at home which destroyed many of his scores including a final Saxophone
Quartet entitled Horror vacui (Abhorrence of emptiness).
The pianist admits to disappointment on first acquaintance with the
Fantasia, some 50 minutes of 'disparate material which sprawled
stylistically in all directions' with 'windows' of unrelated sections, a
'Chopin 'window', an 'obvious Habanera' - but beware, Allgén,
a habitual debunker, puts a Latin footnote which translates "- - ignorant
chatterboxes will say Spain - - everyone succumbs when faced with ignorance".
Melodies return, maybe with Bartok rhythms, at another time supported by
arpeggio figures. 'Violent arpeggio movements' release 'bundles of energy'
The composer set himself the task of writing a virtuosic major work, which
evolved intuitively - 'I just make it up' - from a 1955 version half the
length of this later one (I have not discovered its date) recorded posthumously
in 1998. Persson has persuaded himself that it is really 'unified and complex';
I have been unable to do so, but would hesitate to condemn it out of hand.
It may well appeal to collectors of 'outsider' composers, for some of whom
their time comes eventually. (Seen&Heard is grasping the opportunity
this summer to cover a festival in Portugal which will feature important
composers, once thought eccentrics and still not quite household names in
UK, including Scelsi & Ohana.) Allgén's music is mainly tonal
and the piano writing not too avant-garde (no diving inside the piano for
special effects). If you have warmed to Sorajbi or Alan Bush, possible
equivalents in British Music, and to transatlantic individualists like Ives
& Nancarrow, this Fantasia might be worth trying for something
Allgén's Fantasia is graced by Alice's impressive production
values, convincingly played, impeccably recorded and supplied with comprehensive
background information in English translation, a labour of love encased in
a stylish book case, which invites exploration of its contents.
Alice Produktion deserves support for its determination to explore
music old and new off the beaten track, always presented attractively with
maintenance of high production values.
Peter Grahame Woolf