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From Equinox To Solstice
Anders NILSSON (b.1954)

Concerto grosso (1995)
Ketil HVOSLEF (b.1939)

Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra (1996)
Jouni KAIPAINEN (b.1956)

Vernal Concerto From Equinox to Solstice Op.53 (1996)
Raschèr Saxophone Quartet
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Petter Sundkvist
Recorded: Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden, September 2000
BIS CD-1203 [76:38]

 

Several years ago, I found a second-hand copy of a Swedish disc (Phono-Suecia PSCD 53) entirely devoted to works by Anders Nilsson, a name then completely new to me. I found the music very appealing. I was delighted to hear one of his recent works on this disc. It happily confirms my earlier impressions.

His music was aptly described by Thomas Roth (in his insert notes for the above-mentioned disc) as "full of the joy of being alive". In fact, as is the case with many younger Scandinavian composers, Nilsson’s background lies in the field of popular music in which he was active in his early years and from which he gained a refreshingly undogmatic approach to music, although there is nothing amateurish about his music. His Concerto grosso falls into three movements on the fairly traditional fast-slow-fast pattern (although the central slow movement is at times quite animated). There are several cyclical elements which help to maintain formal and thematic coherence (most themes re-appear in the final movement Allegro e corrente, a perpetuum mobile in all but the name).

At first, Nilsson’s music may give the impression that it is largely improvised; but it is actually carefully and fully worked-out although it maintains some improvisatory quality. Nilsson has a remarkable flair for arresting orchestral textures, already quite in evidence in some of the pieces on the Phono-Suecia CD (e.g. his superb Organ Concerto) and amply confirmed in this extrovert often playful piece that in spite of its plain title deliberately turns its back on Baroque models.

Ketil Hvoslef (born Saeverud) is rather better known. Several of his works have been (and still are) available on discs. His early works were indebted to the Nordic Neo-Romantic or Neo-Classical traditions. His more recent output displays a more expanded emotional and stylistic range. This is the case with his Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra. It is in one movement unfolding as a slow-moving ritual, with many repetitions, although there is nothing minimalist about the music. The piece opens mysteriously, in a dream-like mood and slowly moves in ebbing waves interspersed with almost static episodes in which Time seems to stand still. There is something hypnotic in this music. On the whole, this is very attractive if somewhat lacking in contrasts and ultimately a bit too long for its own good. Well worth having anyway.

Jouni Kaipainen, too, is a composer favouring positive values in music as well as in life. He once said that "it is true that we live in difficult times, but [I] believe that we should remember that there are also positive things in life, such as happiness, hope and humour". His music clearly reflects these words. His music breathes a healthy energy and optimism somewhat at odds with the current contemporary Weltschmerz, although it does not overlook the darker sides of our times. His output includes two sizeable symphonies (he is at work on a third), some chamber music and several concertos (one each for piano, oboe, clarinet and trumpet as well as two for cello). His Vernal Concerto "From Equinox to Solstice" Op.53 is an attractive piece of music about Spring, from the hesitant opening to the coming of Summer, moving in waves with a wealth of contrasted ideas and a remarkable invention and imagination. (I wish now that he had written a Winter, a Summer and an Autumn concerto!)

The Raschèr’s immaculate playing and musicality have been a source of inspiration for many contemporary composers. These pieces certainly are well-deserved tributes to their dedication to contemporary music. They all repay repeated hearings and undoubtedly deserve to be better known, which this superb release makes now possible. I hope that BIS will soon release some other concertos composed for the Raschèr or – more generally – for saxophone quartet.

Hubert Culot

 



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