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Per NØRGÅRD (b. 1932)
Borderlines Ė Violin Concerto No.2 (2003)a
Dream Play (1975, rev. 1980)
Voyage into the Golden Screen (1968)
Rebecca Hirsch (violin)a
Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra; Giordano Bellincampi
Recorded: Tivoliís Concert Hall, April-May 2002 and Danish Radio Concert Hall, November 2002 (Borderlines)
DACAPO 8.226014 [52:07]


At 71, Nørgård is as active as ever; and the remarkable thing about it is that his music remains as questing and inventive as ever. I recently reviewed a recording of two of his recent orchestral works, Symphony No.6 and Terrains vagues (Chandos CHAN 9904), as uncompromising as many of his earlier works. His Violin Concerto No.2 "Borderlines" for strings and percussion, completed as recently as 2002, is no exception. Although scored for smaller forces than either of the aforementioned works or his First Violin Concerto Helle Nacht (Chandos CHAN 9830), this is in no way diminutive, be it in size or musical substance. Neither is there any trace of a mellower style, as is often observed in some recent works by former avant-garde composers who put their radical style aside. The second Violin Concerto is in three movements: a Moderato that the composer describes as "restlessly questing"; a slow Lento, quieto e quasi semplice, "inwardly listening" and a final Andante semplice, "expansively forward-looking". The semplice indication does not mean that the music is simple, far from that, in most cases (just think of Nielsenís Sixth Symphony or of Tubinís Ninth Symphony, both similarly titled and both probably amongst their respective composersí most enigmatic or emotionally complex works). As already mentioned, the music is as uncompromising and inventive as ever, for the composer draws remarkably rich textures from his orchestral forces. Rebecca Hirsch manages the terribly demanding solo part with apparent ease and obviously with masterly assurance. No mean feat. I do not know whether Nørgårdís Second Violin Concerto will be as popular as some earlier 20th Century violin concertos; but when you realise that, say, Bergís Violin Concerto or even Ligetiís Violin Concerto have become parts of the repertoire, you may think that many adventurous and gifted violinists will be quick to put it in their repertoire. A splendid example of this composerís late flowering.

I must admit that Dream Play, completed in 1975 and revised five years later, rather puzzles me, for it sounds as anything else in this composerís output. "At the formal level, the succeeding passages can be regarded as a series of variations" (Ivan Hansen in his excellent insert notes). In fact, this short orchestral piece opens in a deceptively simple way, as if written by Nielsen. Later in the piece, however, many unexpected twists transform the tune beyond recognition. All in all, this is a curious, but quite enjoyable piece, and rather untypical of Nørgårdís output.

On the other hand, Voyage into the Golden Screen is pure early Nørgård. It is part of the orchestral trilogy composed between 1967 and 1969 consisting of Iris (1966/7, rev. 1968), Luna (1967) and Voyage into the Golden Screen (1968). These are works that put the composer firmly on the modern musical map. (These novel pieces had been preceded by a number of early works in which the composer progressed from the Nordic tradition to Modernism under the influence of Holmboe and Bartók.) The composer described the pieceís two movements as "a fjord where a score of sailing ships are moving in the same direction, but at slightly different speeds". The first movement muses on a limited interval and unfolds much in the same way as the first movement of Scelsiís Quattro pezzi per orchestra (ciascuna su una nota sola), or so it seems to me. The music, however, is not without contrasts in spite of its deliberately limited material, thanks to the composerís extraordinary aural imagination. The second movement is very similar, although it is more contrapuntal, along almost minimalist lines. This early major work (the title is inspired by a song by Donovan) is a fascinating essay in orchestral colours and textures; and certainly one of Nørgårdís early masterpieces.

In short, this magnificently produced disc is a must for all Nørgård fans; but others Ė I am sure Ė will also find much thought-provoking, uncompromising stuff that vastly repays repeated hearings. A most welcome release although I find that the total playing time is rather on the short side. This is a small reservation but the addition of Luna and Iris was possible and would have made the disc still more valuable. Anyway, warmly recommended.

Hubert Culot

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