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Poul RUDERS (b.1949)
Paganini Variations (1999/2000)a
The City in the Sea (1990)b
Anima (1993)c
Mette Ejsing (contralto)b; Michaela Fukacova (cello)c; David Starobin (guitar)a; Odense Symphony Orchestra; Jan Wagner
Recorded: Carl Nielsen Hall, Odense Koncerthus, Odense, May 2002
BRIDGE 9122 [57:37]

The City in the Sea is Ruders’ first setting of a poem by Poe (three years later, he set The Bells for soprano and ensemble, on Bridge 9057). This is a quite different setting. The City in the Sea, written with the present soloist’s voice in mind, is a large-scale dramatic scene for contralto and orchestra in which Ruders responds to Poe’s vision in vivid orchestral terms. There are many moments of imaginative and powerfully evocative orchestral - writing perfectly suited to Poe’s often gloomy imagery. This is an impressive piece of gripping, strongly expressive music.

Anima composed in 1993 is Ruders’ second cello concerto. The first cello concerto Polydrama was written in 1998 as the third part of the so-called Drama Trilogy written between 1987 and 1988. The other pieces are Dramaphonia for piano and orchestra and Monodrama for percussion and orchestra, the latter being – to the best of my knowledge – still unrecorded. Polydrama was recorded several years ago (on Unicorn DKP CD 9114, nla at the time of writing, as far as I know). It is on the whole a more introverted, often dark-hued and at times bleak piece of music - though essentially song-like in quality. Anima is more overtly lyrical, though it too has its share of dynamic contrasts. The keyword, however, in this marvellous work is ‘song’. The ever-present solo part, beautifully played here by Michaela Fukacova, is predominantly and often warmly melodic. Ruders’ superb scoring for traditional (by his own standards) orchestral forces never obscures the soloist’s almost endless song. The work develops the initial material through what the composer refers to as "minimorphoses", ever renewing and recreating the thematic material. This exhibits parallels with Holmboe and his own metamorphosis technique. I am in no doubt that Anima is one of Ruders’ most gripping, though accessible and warmly expressive works so far.

The same might also be said of the attractive Paganini Variations; actually Ruders’ second guitar concerto. The first guitar concerto Psalmodies of 1989 is available on Bridge 9037. There are twenty-two variations on Paganini’s theme (guess which!) that are in turn dreamy and animated, serious and playful. The music flows effortlessly and seamlessly throughout, or so it seems, in the most imaginative and colourful manner, with sometimes a welcome touch of mild irony or humour. The solo part, written for David Starobin and for which a new guitar was constructed by the English guitar builder, Gary Southwell, is quite demanding but extremely resourceful and perfectly suited to Ruders’ boundlessly imaginative writing.

I have know Ruders’ music for many years; and, from the start, I was convinced that he is a lyricist at heart. That said, in his early works, he often defiantly concealed his lyricism with a good deal of irony and often whimsical fancy; sometimes adopting aggressive minimalism or nodding towards "polystylism" alla Schnittke. Nevertheless, in some works such as Polydrama or the impressive First Symphony Himmelhoch jauchzend...zum Tode betrübt, a new seriousness crept into his music, revealing – I think – his real, inner self. Another striking characteristic of his music lies in his orchestral mastery. Here is a composer who obviously enjoys writing for large orchestral forces and who relishes the many expressive possibilities of present-day symphonic forces. I firmly believe that he is at his best when writing for orchestra. This is quite clear, say, in the Solar Trilogy (Dacapo 8.224054), in the works in Chandos’s selection (CHAN 9179) and in the magnificent pieces recorded here.

I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending this release, Volume 3 of Bridge’s Poul Ruders Edition, as the best possible introduction to his highly personal, strongly expressive and often beautiful music, the more so when served by such excellent performances and recording..

Hubert Culot

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