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Knudåge RIISAGER (1897 – 1974)
Qarrtsiluni Op.36 (1938) [8:27]
Månerenen Op.57 (1956) [47:21]
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra; Bo Holten
Recorded: Frichsparken, Aarhus, March 2004
DACAPO 8.226022 [55:49]

Riisager’s Qarrtsiluni Op.36 and Trumpet Concertino Op.29 are probably the pieces for which he is best remembered outside Denmark but there is much more than that. His other works include a number of ballet scores such as Etudes (after Czerny) and Slaraffenland Op.33 (two suites from the latter are available on DaCapo 8.224082, that I yet to hear). There are some fine piano works including the substantial Piano Sonata Op.22 available on DaCapo 8.226004 reviewed here by Rob Barnett a few months ago. By the way, this is the fifth all-Riisager release from DaCapo.

"Qarrtsiluni" is a word in Eskimo language meaning "expectant stillness". The work opens with a short dissonant call to arms. This is immediately followed by a soft ostinato supporting short, tense figures from high woodwinds regularly restated as a ritornello throughout the piece. The flute intones a short tune, actually an original Greenland folk tune. From this rather limited and subdued basic material, the music unfolds as one long crescendo, that had some commentators comparing Qarrtsiluni to Ravel’s Bolero; However it really has very little in common with Ravel’s work. Its allegiance is to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The music is brutal and aggressive at times, although a far cry from Stravinsky’s earth-shaking pagan ritual. It is all rather splendid, often impressive and is superbly scored.

Qarrtsiluni was originally conceived as a symphonic movement, but was regularly used as a ballet score, whereas Månerenen ("Moon Reindeer") was written as a proper ballet score. It is based on a Lapp tale by Mirjami Kousmanen. It is a tale of unrequited love, in which magic plays an important part. It ends with death. A Lapp girl Aili loves Nilas who prefers another girl. In dismay she turns to the sorcerer Nåiden who lures her into his circle of reindeers, actually enchanted women under his spell. Aili, too, is metamorphosed into a beautiful white reindeer. She wants to free herself from Nåiden’s spell, but the sorcerer throws her into a deep gorge. Every night, the white reindeer lures young men into the abyss, whereas by daytime she is human again, but with much erotic charisma. Nilas falls in love with her, realises her dual nature and tries to protect her. It is all to no avail, for she still has to lure him into the gorge. Nilas finally kills the white reindeer, and by so doing releases her from the spell while making their love impossible. This tale reminds me of a Finnish film for which the late Einar Englund composed a very fine score.

Now, the music. The style is neo-classical with motifs and rhythms from Lapp music woven into the fabric, without making it "folkloristically authentic". These folk-inflected elements add colour. The music is superbly scored and attractive. This is a very fine score, with many felicitous touches and a remarkable wealth of melodic invention. It nevertheless works splendidly as a piece of music on its own right.

These colourful scores get beautifully prepared and committed readings that make this recent release a pure joy from first to last.

Hubert Culot



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