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Bent SØRENSEN (born 1958)

Looking on Darkness (2000)
Per Magnus LINDBORG (born 1968)

Bombastic SonoSofisms
Maja Solveig Kjelstrup RATKJE (born 1973)

Gagaku Variationsa
Magnus LINDBERG (born 1958)

Jeux d’Anches (1990/1)
Asbjørn SCHAATHUN (born 1961)

Frode Haltli (accordion); Vertavo String Quarteta
Recorded: Sofienberg Kirke, Oslo, August 2001
ECM New Series 1794 (472 187-2) [60:28]


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The accordion has long been an instrument generally associated with folk or popular music and has only recently been given some serious attention by contemporary composers, often from Nordic countries. I do not know whether this situation is due to any particular reason other than the presence of excellent players who developed a remarkable playing technique enticing composers to write for them. Haltli’s teacher in Copenhagen, Magnus Ellegaard, for whom Nordheim and Nørgård composed several pieces, was one such virtuoso. Haltli and the Finn Matti Rantanen belong to a younger generation of brilliant players for whom many Scandinavian composers have also consistently composed. Indeed, all pieces here, but Lindberg’s Jeux d’Anches, were written for and/or dedicated to Frode Haltli.

Sørensen’s Looking on Darkness inspired, so we are told, by Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXVII is a brilliant study in light and shade, movement and stasis, conjuring up an often troubled, unpredictable sound world displaying a remarkable wealth of invention. Lindborg’s Bombastic SonoSofisms, in spite of its queer and rather enigmatic title (there is nothing bombastic about this music), is another brilliant showpiece, albeit in a somewhat more accessible idiom than Sørensen’s sometimes intractable piece. Schaathun’s Lament is rather more overtly expressionistic in mood, alternating slow sorrowful moments and angry outbursts of some energy before ending peacefully on a long-held high note (an incredible technical feat on the player’s part, this). Lindberg’s Jeux d’Anches is a much more congenial piece, though still very demanding, but nevertheless quite accessible. (Lindberg’s earlier Metal Works for accordion and percussion is rather more difficult and taxing.) This is the piece’s second recording (Rantanen recorded it on Finlandia FACD 404 some years ago) and this one is as fine as the earlier recording.

The most ambitious work here is Ratkje’s Gagaku Variations for accordion and string quartet. It is a quite substantial, if overlong piece evincing great imagination and sometimes great beauty, alternating ruthlessly energetic variations and moments of deeply felt tenderness. It cleverly eschews the all too evident trap of fake Orientalism though the very end of the piece makes its origin quite clear. The accordion does not stand out in a soloistic position but is rather a full-time equal partner adding some further instrumental and expressive colour to the strings’ sound. As in Hoskawa’s In der Tiefe der Zeit for cello and accordion which I reviewed recently, the accordion suggests the sound of the sho (i.e. the Japanese mouth-organ).

Haltli is a formidable player as well as an excellent musician. He plays with strength, commitment and conviction and his committed readings of these often difficult pieces cannot be bettered. Now, this is a most unusual programme of works for a most unusual instrument; and some may find it hard to listen to it in one take. This is obviously the sort of thing to be sampled, piece by piece; and I would suggest that any newcomer to this repertoire starts with Lindberg’s piece. Not for the faint-hearted, maybe, but well worth the effort.

Hubert Culot

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