Nordheim is seventy and, as ever on such occasions,
this provokes thought as to his musical horizons and compositional direction.
His rebellion against Norwegian conservatism in the early post-war years
is as well known as his embracing of electronic music, first encountered
during a Parisian stay in 1955. Indeed features of inheritance and rebellion
have remained with him ever since and this disc is a paradigm of this
Which is not to ascribe to the carefully named Concerto
for Violin and Orchestra intimations of the Janus-faced. This is
uncompromising and frequently granitic music but it is also music of
enormously colouristic skill. Nordheim uses three percussion groups
greatly multiplying the potential for increased instrumental sonorities.
Felicities of a chamber music intimacy abound and co-exist with brass
blocks of sound of glowering ferocity. The one movement thirty-minute
span of the work encompasses explosive violence and moments of what
one can only call malevolent stasis. Nordheim apparently once described
the Concerto as "one long funeral song" and this compound
of lament and lyricism is viscerally alive, not least in its almost
frantic power, the frequently high lying solo part and the agitated
orchestral clusters. The concerto is studded with such moments – listen
at 12.14 to the oboe’s winding figure and surrounding dense brass and
high woodwind, all perfectly balanced. Or at 23.41 listen to the solo
violin’s intensified line – and Peter Herresthal’s correspondingly intensified
vibrato usage – and to this affecting passage which is augmented by
rich orchestral sonorities. Nordheim frequently has recourse to the
syntax of late romanticism whilst putting it to his own highly distinctive
use. Such characteristics act centrally in the music – the orchestral
with the chamber, the avant-garde with the traditional, the explosive
with moments of reflection, a single line augmented, amplified, released;
blocks of sound and density with moments of almost crystalline clarity.
In Nordheim’s case monumentality is modified by reflection.
Duplex was originally written in 1991
for violin and viola. In this version for violin and cello the very
closely miked performance resounds orchestrally. Thunderous pizzicatos
explode; timbral contrasts and those of register abound; dynamic contrasts
are fully exploited; this is a vigorous and dynamic work and the composer
twice uses the tempo marking Energico to emphasise the point.
Sonstad matches Herresthal note for note – and gunshot pizzicato for
gunshot pizzicato. The Partita für Paul was written
for a Paul Klee exhibition. The five movements are named after five
of Klee’s paintings. In their fine notes Peter and Harald Herresthal
rightly draw attention in passing to the thematic resemblance to Ysaye.
This is a fine and memorable piece – with scintillating left-hand pizzicatos,
an affecting lyrical line in Schwebendes, imitative pizzicato
effects in the harp piece (Nordheim is a rampant pizzicatist in solo
string works) and also the use of a tape recorder. This is used with
electronic delay to allow a multiple canon and conjures an extraordinary
drizzling effect with a droning pedal note.
With BIS’s usual standards of excellence in matters
of presentation and sound this is a highly recommended disc.