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Kristian BLAK (b. 1947)
Úr Hólminum (1995)a
Hogboy (1997)b
Vienne la nuit (1997)c
Shaman (2001)d
Robert Sonne (double bass)b; Palle Schou-Nielsen (horn)c; Caputad; Det Jyske Ensemblebc; Guđmundur Óli Gunnarsson (conductor)ad
Recorded: Viborg Musiksal, Denmark, February-April 2004 (Hogboy, Vienne la nuit); Borgarleikhúsiđ, Reykjavík, April 2004 (Shaman) and Viđistađakirkja, Hafnarfjřrđur, April 2004 (Úr Hólminum)
TUTL FKT 22 [48:52]

The Faroese composer Kristian Blak is one of the most versatile and gifted composers to have made his mark outside the North Atlantic archipelago. Together with his colleagues Sunleif Rasmussen and Pauli í Sandagerđi, with some other friends and colleagues, they might be affectionately nicknamed “The Mighty Handful from the Faroe Islands”. Blak’s musical background is varied, with one foot in the more popular world of jazz and the other in the field of ‘serious’ music. His multifaceted background also explains the compositional freedom displayed in many of his concert works. He has a varied and substantial output in which chamber music for various instrumental combinations is fairly prominent. The backbone of his chamber output is – without doubt – to be found in his four string quartets (No.1 Rørsia of 1985, No.2 Images of 1987, No.3 Undirlýsi of 1992 and No.4 Contours of 2001, all of which are available on several Tutl discs). Orchestral music is not absent either. Besides a number of concertos and other orchestral works, his output also includes several works for ensemble, some of the most recent of these are recorded here.

Blak’s music is often inspired either by Faroese nature or the musical past through the use of folk tunes as basic material. However the basic idea for a composition may also originate from other impressions as well. This is the case in Úr Hólminum, which, so the composer tells us, is a sort of musical journey through Faroese landscapes. The music displays an often rugged energy mirroring the scenery of the Faroese western coast, and is full of abrupt contrasts and not without grandeur. Blak draws a formidable expressive range from his limited orchestral forces. In fact, all four works are scored for sinfonietta rather than full orchestra, and were all commissioned by various renowned ensembles such as Avanti! from Finland, Caput from Iceland, Aldubáran from the Faroe Islands and Lys from Denmark.

Hogboy, a short concerto for double bass and small ensemble is a commission from the Northlands festival, Scotland. It evokes Hogboy, a ghost reported to inhabit the Orcadian stone age tomb of Maes Howe on Mainland. Maes Howe is, with other sites in the Orkney Islands and all over the world, a place that appeals to my "Machen-ish" frame of mind. Here the historical past imposes itself on the present with tremendous strength and presence. Consequently, this piece, based on a poem by the Faroese poet William Heinesen, could not but appeal to me in the same way as John Ireland’s Legend or Will Todd’s Saint Cuthbert. The music sets out to illustrate the poem, without being overtly programmatic; unfortunately, Heinesen’s poem is not printed in the notes. The music, however, speaks for itself, and colourfully conjures up the various moods of Hogboy.

On the other hand, Vienne la nuit, a miniature horn concerto, draws on two lines from Apollinaire’s celebrated poem Le pont Mirabeau - a poem that also inspired Durey’s Poème for piano. It is cast as a short Nocturne with a somewhat minimalist, but very suggestive beginning leading to more impassioned music.

The final work Shaman is rather different and, on the whole, more ambitious. It aims at evoking a long-forgotten past through a sort of shamanic journey. It draws on a number of elements, not only from the Faeroes but also from many countries in Eastern Europe, Asia and even Australia all of which at one time lived under the shaman’s ruling spirit. This is reflected by the use of a number of unusual instruments, such as Lithuanian bark horns, didgeridoo, Jew’s harp, shakuhachi and even straw grass. Players are also asked to vocalise on vowels. The music, however, makes discrete but often telling use of these unusual sound sources. The work unfolds as a mysterious, timeless ritual, in a manner similar to that of Kutavičius’ “old pagan rites” (e.g. in his oratorios From the Jatvingian Stone and The Tree of the World). Blak’s inventive and beguiling music often brought that of the Lithuanian composer to mind, and none the worse for that. I consider Blak’s Shaman as one of his most imaginative and searching works, and – no doubt – one pointing towards new developments in his musical thinking. A major piece though by no means easy.

All four works are superbly played and warmly recorded. They provide a good introduction to Blak’s sound-world. A pity, though, that the total playing time is so short.

Faroese music may be known to many through a jolly tune used by Grainger and Nielsen; but, believe me, there is much more to it than that as this very fine release amply demonstrates. If you are interested in knowing more about present-day Faroese composers, I suggest that you seek out Cantus borealis (BIS CD-1085) with wind music by Blak, Rasmussen and their colleagues and Landiđ (Tutl FKT 7) with orchestral and vocal works by Blak, Rasmussen and Pauli í Sandagerđi.

Hubert Culot


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