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Madeleine ISAKSSON (b.1956)
Stråkvåg (1990) [5:13]
Sum om (1991) [5:15]
inné (1993) [10:56]
Andelek (1997) [10:28]
Failles (2003) [10:29]
Rum (1999) [11:57]
Å svävare (1993-95) [22:42]
Eva Lindal, Anna Lindal (violin)
Torbjörn Helander (viola)
Chrichan Larson (cello)
Michael Karlsson (double-bass)
Kerstin Frödin (recorder)
Sarah Lindloff (flutes)
Kennet Bohman (oboe)
Bo Pettersson (clarinets)
Knut Sönstevold (bassoon)
Christer Johnsson (saxophone)
Sören Hermansson (french horn)
Jonas Bylund (trombone)
Johnny Axelsson (percussion)
Kristina Hansson (soprano)
Katarina Böhm (mezzo)
Michael Weinius (baritone)
Stockholm Saxophone Quartet
Staffan Larsson (conductor)
Rec. 2002-3, Capitol Studio and Studios 2 and 3, Radiohuset, Stokholm.



I studied composition at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague in 1987 at the same time as Madeleine Isaksson. Though I may be wrong, I seem to remember her being one of the students who had been accepted by Brian Ferneyhough just before he left to work in America, leaving a whole clutch of sensitive souls high and dry. They were later to be confronted with lessons from Frederick Rzewski: now there was an interesting culture shock.

My only memories of her are as a retiring, almost invisible member of our little composers community, and no doubt she thought of me (if at all) as an incorrigible ruffian, racing to prop up the nearest bar in between performances at the Bonn/Frankfurt Weltmusiktage ’87 and generally refusing to take life or music in the least seriously. This is no doubt the same reason she now has a CD out, and I have a beer belly and a cupboard full of unperformed manuscripts.

Having declared this fleeting interest, I was intrigued to see how her more recent music sounds and was reassured to hear that, to my ears at least, very little has changed. These are the kind of pieces which, no matter how subtle, atmospheric and refined they may be, end up becoming hard to define as individual works – they run into, through and over each other, and become as interchangeable as their titles. This and more they have in common with each other; and as my mate Graham of Leeds would say, there are ‘no jokes.’

Stråkvåg (String Wave) is a nice, compact string quartet, whose glissandi, repeated notes and quarter-tones are deliberately descriptive of water: ‘imagine getting into a small boat, feel how it is rocked by the weight of your body and follows the waves on the water…’ Sum om (As if) is an extension of Isaksson’s contacts with visual art and literature, and whose glissandi, repeated notes and quarter-tones are related to the poems of Susanne Marten. Inné means ‘innate’ and was written during Isaksson’s first pregnancy. The piece has some melodic gestures, trills and quarter-tone relationships which reminded me a little of some of Alain Louvier’s work, but Isaksson’s own description is of course more apt: ‘…an attempt to filter the innated in a given time and space, through the sonorities of each instrument, pitches and movements within a harmonic body toward a shared temporary ending.’ Andelek (Spirit Game) was written for the Stockholm Saxophone Quartet, whose glissandi, repeated notes and quarter-tones; ‘like a vibrating thread of energy, strive upward towards the extremely high registers.’ Failles (gaps) has the advantage of contrast in timbre, with trombone, recorder and cello forming an interestingly disparate ensemble. Rums (Rooms) is an interesting ‘game’ of a piece, with different tempi running simultaneously, and musical structures being built from different series’ of numbers. Å svävare (O hoverer) has the support of texts by Celan, Rilke and others and is in seven parts. The title comes from the poem Taktavla by Katarina Frostenson, ‘O hoverer – the fall is an embrace.’

I don’t want to be too negative about this CD. On their own in a properly balanced concert programme, each piece would undoubtedly provide an interesting and atmospheric moment. Placed one after each other on one disc, I found myself gradually losing the will to live. Programme notes which tempt one to write in to Private Eye’s ‘Pseud’s Corner’ don’t really help either, but this is of course all part of the package. This is a quiet, intellectual world with a low tolerance of contemporary music’s post-post modern ‘fun factor’. The intellectual question it poses to me however is, at what point does stylistic consistency become cyclical and dreary?

Dominy Clements



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