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Thomas KOPPEL (1944 – 2006)
Moonchild’s Dream (1990/1)a [18:52]
Nele’s Dance (1991)b [18:38]
Los Angeles Street Concerto (1999)c [13:20]
Michala Petri (recorders); Lars Hannibal (archlute)b; Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestraa; Kremerata Balticac; Bo Holten (conductor)a
rec. Lyngby Kulturhus, Copenhagen, November 2005 (Moonchild’s Dream); Danish Radio Concert Hall, November 2005 (Nele’s Dance) and Great Guild Concert Hall, Riga, April 2004 (Los Angeles Street Concerto)
DACAPO 8.226021 [50:57]


Moonchild’s Dream is the first work by Thomas Koppel that I ever heard. It was released on an RCA disc (09026 62543-2) including several concertos written for Michala Petri, among which Holmboe’s splendid Recorder Concerto Op.122 and Malcolm Arnold’s equally fine Recorder Concerto Op.133, both of which were then receiving their world premiere recordings, as did the other works: Koppel, Kulesha, Christiansen. I do not know whether this disc is still available, but it is well worth looking for.
 
Thomas Koppel, who made quite a name with the rock group Savage Rose, which he founded, is the son of the Danish composer-pianist Herman D. Koppel (1908–1998). As can easily be guessed, his musical background is quite varied, including jazz and rock, which  influenced his musical thinking, as well as a more traditional musical upbringing. This also shows in the three works recorded here, although none of them could be described as rock- or jazz-influenced. They display a remarkably refreshing approach. All three are straightforward, richly melodic and colourful, in an eminently accessible idiom.
 
Moonchild’s Dream is a tone poem, the programme of which is given in a short poem penned by the composer (printed in the insert notes), something he also did for the next work Nele’s Dance written at about the same time. “The recorder concerto is a kind of declaration of love for the creative life force that bubbles up from the cracks and fissures in the city pavements” (the composer’s words). The piece opens with ominous timpani strokes that will reappear later as a motto representing the dark side of life in Copenhagen’s South Harbour area, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city. These do not stop the girl dreaming of a better life, to skip and dance lightly in spite of menacing clouds. Flights of fancy dispel the gloomy atmosphere suggested by the timpani. The presence of the sea is discreetly evoked by soft rolls on suspended cymbals. The girl’s innocence is reflected in the simple, warmly melodic material, perfectly suited to the recorder. All in all, a really lovely work. There is not much to choose between this reading and that on the RCA disc. I simply find that the present performance has more urgency than the earlier one (English Chamber Orchestra and Okko Kamu).
 
The composer also penned a short ten-line poem for his next work for recorder, Nele’s Dance. Each line is the heading for a movement - the poem is also reprinted in the notes. Nele’s Dance for recorders (sopranino and tenor) and archlute was written for Michala Petri and her husband Lars Hannibal. This suite of short miniatures is inspired by Charles de Coster’s novel The Story of Eulenspiegel and Lame Goedzak. Nele is Eulenspiegel’s sweetheart. I must say that the poem only obliquely refers to de Coster’s work, but this really does not matter for the ensuing music is quite beautiful, richly melodic and subtly written. Koppel originally thought of writing the piece for recorders and guitar, but eventually preferred the archlute which evokes period instruments.
 
To a certain extent, Los Angeles Street Concerto is a more serious, harmonically more tense piece. Though still strongly melodic, the music is more stringent and the scoring for nine solo strings and celesta emphasises the overtly realistic content of the music. The piece as a whole might be experienced as an urban nocturne suggested by Los Angeles’ city centre at night, when the homeless are left to their fate. The composer described it as “a little tale in [these] gloomy surroundings”, but again the music for all its comparative austerity does not exclude hope for something better.
 
Michala Petri plays marvellously throughout and is splendidly partnered by her husband and the two orchestras involved, and the recording is very fine and warmly natural. This is a really lovely disc with three lovely works that certainly deserve to be heard. My sole complaint is the rather short playing time that might have allowed for the inclusion of some other work by Koppel, although the idea was of course to have Koppel’s three works for recorder on one single disc. So, no earthshaking masterpieces, but three attractive works that have you whistling the tunes long afterwards.
 

Hubert Culot
 

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