Rasmussen comes from
the Faroe Islands; he is probably one
of the first contemporary classical
composers to do so but his background
is rather varied. He started out as
an experimental rock and jazz musician
but from the early 1980s started to
take an interest in classical music.
He trained at the Royal Danish Academy
of Music from 1990 to 1995, studying
with Ib Nørholm and Ivar Frounberg.
He was also much influenced by the music
of Tristran Murail and the compositional
principles of spectral music (where
the harmonies are derived from the overtone
No. 1 was commissioned by the Nordic
House in the Faroes; written in 1995-1997,
it did not receive its first performance
until 2000 when it was performed by
the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. The
symphonyís title refers to a poem by
the Faroese writer William Heinesen,
Itís again one of these Oceanic days.
Rasmussen has often used Heinesenís
work for inspiration. Rasmussenís music
is firmly linked to Faroese culture
and life; the sound-scape of the music
constantly evokes the landscape and
the sea. The basic material, the building
blocks of the Symphony are Faroese folksongs.
The CD booklet explains
how Rasmussen derives his melodic material
from the overtone spectrum of the melodies,
so that these traditional tunes evidently
permeate the melody, harmony and rhythm
of the Symphony. How much of this is
detectable by the listener, I am not
sure. Lack of familiarity with the basic
Faroese folksongs themselves means that
it is not always easy to detect references;
add to this the fact that spectral
music can often simply sound like
a Debussian wash. But this Rasmussenís
symphony has much more going for it
than a certain novelty of harmonic construction.
His music moves from
one short section to the next, not in
a disjointed manner but flowing, the
listener constantly being diverted by
the shimmering aural sound-scape that
the composer creates. Whether explicitly
or not, it is music which constantly
recalls the sights and sounds of an
ever-changing landscape or seascape,
a vision constantly the same but always
different. Percussion feature heavily
in the score, though the CD booklet
does not give details of the exact instrumentation.
This is a symphony
in as much as Rasmussen has used formal
procedures to construct the work; whether
it is a symphony in classical terms
I leave to others of a more academic
turn of mind to decide. What it is is
a sumptuous aural experience.
The companion piece
is a saxophone concerto, Dem Licht
entgegen. The title of the piece
links up with the hymn Som den gyldne
so frembryder (As the golden sun
breaks out) on which Rasmussen has based
much of his compositional material.
This theme is also reflected in the
way that the music moves from the depths
to the heights, the soloist playing
the baritone, tenor, alto and soprano
saxophones respectively in the first,
second, third and fourth movements.
The first movement, in particular, with
the baritone saxophone outlined against
the low instruments of the orchestra,
is especially striking.
The concerto seems
more violent than the symphony and in
this later work Rasmussen appears less
content to simply generate sound-scapes
and explore the drama in the music.
Where it falls down is as a concerto;
the solo part may be difficult but it
seems to lack a virtuoso, show-off element
and the soloistís ability to generate
a distinctive voice is hampered by the
necessity to play four different instruments.
Still, if one thinks of it as an extended
tone-poem with concertante part, then
it is a profoundly fascinating work.
Rasmussen was a name
that was new to me and the catalogue
is not overstuffed with his music. He
seems to be an interesting new Northern
talent and I look forward to hearing
more of his music. The performances
on this disc are exemplary, and the
artists project Rasmussenís sound-world
with a naturalistic confidence. This
is definitely a disc to explore.
see also review
by Hubert Culot