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Chamber music

Mirror Pieces (1980)
Passacaglia (1977)
Double (1994)
Territorial Song (1995-97)
In Terra Pax* (1961)
Plateaux pour Deux* ** (1970)
LIN ensemble
(Jens Schou, clarinet and hihat; John Ehde, cello and chain; Erik Kaltoft, piano and sleigh bells)
with guests (Signe Madsen, violin; Frans Hansen, tabla and percussion* **; Mads Bendsen, percussion*; Carsten Seyer-Hansen, conductor)
Recorded at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, Århus, 2001. DDD
DA CAPO 8.224225 [78.33]
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Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen is not a particularly well-known name outside his native Denmark and has modestly described himself as "a minor figure in Danish music", although he has won the Nordic Council's Music Prize for his Symphony, Antiphony of 1980. The title of that latter piece gives at least some hint to the nature of at least some of the music on this disc of his smaller scale compositions. The incredibly detailed booklet notes, some by the composer himself, mention Bartók and Stravinsky as influences in his youth and certainly the Mirror Pieces (for clarinet, cello and piano) bear this out. There are numerous dissonant passages but the overall effect is of a very listenable composer. The second piece reminds me of Feldman, Skempton, Pärt you get the drift? The following Passacaglia is a rather spikier beast but has "exotic" percussion in the form of a tabla; not so radical now but in 1977 perhaps more unusual.

Double (for violin and piano) is a stark but hypnotic piece. The composer describes the first movement as a "still-life" and while it is static in some ways, I cannot help but be reminded of some of the more austere chamber works of late Ravel (the Trio, for example). The fact that it brings to mind some of my absolute favourite chamber music has to be quite a recommendation. The title of Territorial Song put me in mind of Percy Grainger's Colonial Song but then I heard it! Probably the most "difficult" music on this disc (is this why the composer's notes here are absolutely minimal?), it has a certain savage charm, in particular with its use of bass clarinet, an under-represented instrument which is quite dear to me (especially when played by John Surman, although I also recently reviewed a splendid Ian Mitchell/Black Box disc for Musicweb). The links I make mentally and aurally between this sort of thing and the "free" wing of modern (European?) jazz may be imaginary or exaggerated on my part but there is nothing here to frighten anyone availed of that musical background (it certainly isn't anything like Boulez or even Ligeti!).

In Terra Pax is a brief piece for clarinet, piano and percussion and bears absolutely no relation to compositions using the same title by Finzi and Martin. Heavily percussive, it follows (literally) hard on the heels of Territorial Song and is probably, like that piece, the least likely to gain Gudmundsen-Holmgreen a following on the basis of a casual hearing. The closing Plateaux utilises a car-horn. At first I was and, in fact, I still am reminded of an exceptionally hortatory and simplistic bass clarinet. However the melodic cello generated background makes for an attention holding piece, although one that you would probably not care to listen to on a regular basis.

All in all, I found this disc well worth listening to with some fascinating ideas and juxtapositions but, in the final analysis, I have to concur that, at least on this evidence, the adjective "minor" is a useful one to apply. Anyone expecting the next Fartein Valen, for example, might well be advised to look elsewhere and anyone hoping for Tveitt-like revelation will not find it in this interesting but ultimately very introverted music.
Neil Horner

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