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Lasse THORESEN (b. 1949)
Chases, Cattle Calls and Charts (2001-2003)
Berit Opheim (vocal)
BIT20 Ensemble/Jeffrey Milarsky
rec. 16-17 February 2005, NRK, Hordaland, Norway.
AURORA ACD 5042 [55:23]
 

The Norwegian approach to folk music has a unique quality. One might compare it with the Irish, where the character of folklore resonates in the air. In Norway it is embedded in the mountains, forests and lakes which have remained largely – superficially - to untrained foreign eyes - unchanged for ages. In this same way the character of folk music is ingrained into Lasse Thoresen’s Løpp, lokk og linjar (Chases, Cattle Calls and Charts).
 
The piece is in five movements, each with a distinctive character, but related by what Thoresen refers to as ‘three spheres of sound …: contemporary music, folk music, and animal sounds – first and foremost birdsong.’ Thoresen has ‘tried as far as possible to retain characteristic textures and intervals when transferring birdsong and folk song from their state of pre-notation innocence to the theoretically founded environment of Western art music.’ The Hardanger fiddle, for instance, is a strong feature of the first movement, Ovringar, whose atmospheric and sustained nature is ‘a study in appearance and disappearance, clarity and vagueness.’ Some of the original Hardanger fiddle music is said to have been created as the result of encounters with wood nymphs, and Berit Opheim’s gentle vocals grow out of the instrumental textures like the imagination at work, creating human shapes and faces in the patterns of nature. The movement concludes with deeper, earthier sonorities which reflect earthiness and roots, and closes with a cool, inconclusive clarity.
 
The second movement, Heomreisa. Mellombels is in some ways the Scherzo, being a sort intermezzo based around folksy rhythms and some delightfully uplifting singing, appreciated through applause from the musicians. Farting low brass and syncopated rhythmic snaps serve to heighten this movement’s medieval feel.
 
Fuglar, fe og folk is the central, and in many ways the most important movement. Dwelling on animal sounds and cattle calls, repeated notes early on recall Messiaen’s ‘Oiseaux exotiques’, and the cattle are conjured by cowbells and lowing brass. Cattle calls taken from a number of sources are integrated into the music, and immediately cast a spell which means vast, echoing distances and lonely countryside. One can’t help associating the birdsong with Messiaen, but Thoresen’s approach has its own distinctive orchestration – the piccolo appears as might be expected, but in its less accustomed lower, more throaty register. The mixture of animal/natural with human/agrarian sounds soon dispel any direct comparison with Messiaen. I find it harder to resist the comparison with a Mahlerian symphony however, and at about halfway through this movement there are some trumpet solo lines which might have Gustav beating on the lid of his coffin.
 
Hugsviv is the fourth, ‘adagio’ movement, derived from improvisations recorded by Berit Opheim. The opening is a kind of lament, and the sustained and expressive character is taken up by the ensemble, quarter-tones included. This music has a special introverted, private, nocturnal character which draws the listener in – some sounds appearing almost shyly, others being placed in explicit and even sometimes dramatic mode. The darkly ecstatic conclusion sets a contradictory seal on a fascinating study.
 
The last movement, Rudlatradl, is based on a ‘trall’, which is a vocal performance of instrumental dance music. Some of the rhythmic nature of the second movement is recalled here, as well as low, grunting brass and contrabassoon parts. Tapping feet which drive the rhythm eventually take over, and the country band kicks in joyfully, followed by a meandering coda in the contrabassoon and ending in characteristic rustic revelry. 
 
The overall impression of this disc is of carefully considered and profoundly felt creativity. The musicianship of soloist and ensemble is beyond question, and the recording is excellent. Lasse Thoresen’s feeling for his own folk heritage and his observations of the natural sounds which inhabit the landscape of his country run through this music like the words through a stick of Brighton rock, and while there is some technically challenging contemporary music to get your teeth into, there is always an attractive sense of fun and intellectual playfulness running just below the surface.
 
Dominy Clements
 

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