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Karin REHNQVIST (b. 1957)
On a Distant Shore (2000)a [17:47]
Beginning (2003)b [16:08]
Arktis Arktis! (2000/1)c [31:50]
I himmelen (1998)d [3:20]
Martin Fröst (clarinet)a; Kungsbacka Piano Triob; Swedish Chamber Orchestraac; Peter Sundkvista, John Storgårdsc; Adolf Fredrik’s Girls Choir, Bo Johanssond
Recorded: Örebro Concert Hall, May 2003 (On a Distant Shore) and March 2004 (Arktis Arktis!); Västerås Concert Hall, February 2005 (Beginning) and Nybrokajen 11, Stockholm, March 2005 (I himmelen)
BIS CD-1396 [70:33]

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On a Distant Shore for clarinet and chamber orchestra (actually strings, timpani and two clarinets), written for Martin Fröst, is laid-out in five movements, exploiting the clarinet’s many tonal qualities. The movement titles serve as indications as to the moods of the music: The Dark, The Light, The Wild, The Singing, The Call. So, The Dark is mostly for low strings and the clarinet in its low register, whereas The Light is appropriately much brighter, with high strings accompanying a folk-like tune in the clarinet. The Wild is a short, devilish Scherzo. The Singing features a long, ornamented melody; and the piece ends as it began, in darkness, with a final keening movement. This very fine work is a most welcome, if not always easy, addition to the repertoire that should appeal to clarinettists willing to expand their repertoire, for this is an ultimately rewarding piece.

Beginning for piano trio is in three movements: Dramatic, Tentative, Rise. Again, the titles of the movements give some indication of what the music is about, whereas the work’s title aptly sums up the intention. "It’s about Creation", says the composer. The first movement alternates and opposes massive piano clusters and melodic fragments in a chaotic way; but high strings try intercede, almost silencing the piano. Ambiguity, however, prevails throughout the final stages of the movement, the strings’ trills again confronting the piano’s clusters until the music evaporates. The second movement opens with a high-pitched melody redolent of folk-song on violin, soon embellished by the piano, and later joined by the cello, in an echo of the kulning (traditional herding call). The third movement seems – at long last – to achieve reconciliation of the disparate elements, the piano’s chords punctuating rather than assaulting the strings’ kulning.

Arktis Arktis! for orchestra was inspired by a trip to northern Canada in which the composer accompanied a Swedish polar expedition. Again, the resulting piece is in no way programmatic, neither is it Rehnqvist’s Arctic symphony, but a suite of impressions gathered during that trip. The first movement Breaking the Ice, the longest of the whole work, evokes bleak, desolate landscapes ("Not always beautiful. Not always white" – the composer’s words) in appropriately greyish tones, sometimes disrupted by piercing rays of light. The second movement Between Sky and Sea hovers in ambiguity, between light and shade, motion and stillness. Interlude in Dark briefly harks back to the opening movement and leads into the final movement, a song for orchestra. This is fairly optimistic, although the music eventually softly dissolves into thin air.

I himmelen for treble voices with soloists, written for the Adolf Fredrik’s Girls Choir on the occasion of their tour to China, is a very fine example of Rehnqvist’s imagination and skill when writing for voices; she was – and may still be – the director of an amateur choir. It is also representative of her music in general, in which characteristics of folk music (such as micro-intervals, slurs, glissandos, and timbral qualities of "untrained" human voices) are woven into an overtly modernistic framework, without there ever being any brutal opposition. Quite the contrary: the folk-inflected material widens the expressive palette of the modern techniques (or the other way round), with strikingly imaginative results. In this short piece, the treble choir sing a traditional chorale from Dalecarlia while four soloists insistently repeat a high-pitched fanfare-like phrase on the words I himmelen ("In Heavens"). This is a real little gem, if ever there was one. I was literally stunned by these young singers’ immaculate rendition, the four soloists brilliantly – and accurately – coping with their fiendishly high-lying parts.

Karin Rehnqvist’s highly personal music was new to me. I doubt that there is a better introduction to her highly personal sound-world than this generously filled, superbly and convincingly played composer’s portrait. This very fine release is again up to BIS’s best standards and is warmly recommended.

Hubert Culot

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