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Pehr Henrik NORDGREN (b. 1944)
Rock Score Op.100 (1997) [12 :04]
Cello Concerto No.1 Op.50 (1980) [23 :28]
TRANSE-CHORAL Op.67 (1985) [30 :32]
Marko Ylönen (cello)
Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra/Juha Kangas
Recorded: Folk Arts Centre, Kaustinen, Finland, June 2002
BIS CD-1356 [67:15]

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Pehr Henrik Nordgren has composed a huge and varied output that now exceeds the one hundred mark. It includes a large number of works for string orchestra, most of which were written for the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra with which Nordgren has a close working relationship. This release is actually the second one from BIS. Kangas and the O.C.O. have also recorded several pieces by Nordgren for Finlandia and Ondine. Nordgrenís list of works includes some twenty concertos (violin, viola, cello, trumpet, alto saxophone, horn, piano and kantele). Some more unusual concertante works may be added to these: the Concerto for Clarinet, Folk Instruments and Small Orchestra Op.14 (1970) and the Autumnal Concerto for traditional Japanese Instruments and Orchestra Op.18 (1974).

The earliest piece here is the Cello Concerto No.1 Op.50. This is in three movements, though not in the usual fast-slow-fast pattern. In fact, the first two movements (Prelude 1 and Prelude 2) are short, if contrasted. Prelude 1 is a calm, mysterious and song-like Adagio while Prelude 2 is a tenser, more animated Allegro. The third movement Hymn - twice as long as the preludes together - really lives up to its title. It is a long song-like, often impassioned melodic outpouring of great beauty and expressive strength.

Nordgrenís music, much like that of Vasks, often has a dark, elegiac quality; which is not very surprising from a composer who keeps repeating that "composing cannot be kept separate from life ... I see composition as an outlet for the need to express myself more fully than in speech, a way of communicating with my fellow human beings". Relief is often brought through the use of folk-tunes or folk-inflected tunes; another parallel with Vasks. These surface here and there to lighten the textures and sombre moods of much of the music, although some harmonic stringency often belies the apparent jollity of these tunes. This was already evident in the first piece that Nordgren composed for the O.C.O. - the attractive Portraits of Country Fiddlers Op.26 (1976), a recording of which is available on Ondine ODE 766-2. This is also to be heard in one of his recent works recorded here, Rock Score Op.100. It opens with a cluster-like, undulating gesture abruptly cut short and followed by a static section (long held notes over snap pizzicato) in which the music almost freezes. A massive crescendo leads to a varied restatement of the opening, also bringing in long held notes but now more forcefully sonorous. From now on, folk-like melodic fragments alternate with varied restatements of the opening clusters. The ever mounting tension is often interrupted by variants of the cluster gesture thus conjuring up a sense of expectancy for what is to come in the next section. The music builds to impressive climaxes, the last of them bringing the piece to its assertive conclusion. By the way, the title does not refer to any sort of Rock music but to the fact that the Folk Arts Centreís new concert hall is built into the rocky hillside and that the piece was written for the inauguration of that hall.

TRANSE-CHORAL Op.67 was largely written during the composerís stay in Paris. The title calls for some comment: the capital letters are the composerís own will "in order to emphasise that the words really have relevance to the musical content". The hyphen represents the silent pause between the movements. The nightmarish atmosphere and troubled mood of the first movement Transe are reinforced by the use of four "wrongly tuned" (i.e. scordatura) violins that create further unsettling ambiguity. This actually happens about halfway through the movement. As was the case with the concluding movement of the First Cello Concerto, Chorale is hymn-like and more straightforward. To some extent, it may be regarded as the affirmative counterpart of the anguished first movement.

As already mentioned these performers have a long and close association with Nordgrenís music. I doubt that these vital and committed performances could be bettered. This is a very fine release and a most eloquent sequel to BISís earlier Nordgren disc (CD-826 - not reviewed).

Hubert Culot

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