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If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

RECORDING OF THE MONTH

 

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Per NØRGÅRD (b. 1932)
Gennem torne (2003) [20:30]
Consolazione: Flos ut rosa (2002) [3:59]
Sonora (1981) [9:39]
Lille dans (1982) [2:21]
Swan Descending (1989) [3:12]
Hedda Gabler (1993) [17:45]
Mens toner daler. Vårsol med fregner (2004) [2:08]
King, Queen and Ace (1989) [19:32]
Tine Rehling (harp); Esbjerg Ensemble/Kaisa Roose
rec. Esbjerg Performing Arts Centre and West Jutland Music Academy, January-May 2004
DACAPO 8.226039 [79:06]

 

This generously filled release includes Per Nørgård’s works for harp, of which Gennem torne (“Through Thorns”) and King, Queen and Ace, both harp concertos in all but the name, are – by far – the most substantial. The other pieces, with the exception of Hedda Gabler, are all short and beautifully written by a composer who obviously loves and understands the instrument. He rarely relies on unusual, eccentric tricks of modern harp playing; and, when doing so, it is always for expressive or colouristic purpose. More than twenty years of Nørgård’s prolific composing career separate the earliest works (Sonora and Lille dans) and the most recent ones, composed between 2002 and 2004. The disc tellingly retraces his musical progress over the last twenty years or so.

Sonora from 1981 and Lille dans (“Little Dance”) from 1982 are the earliest works. Sonora for flute and harp is in four short movements, of which the outer ones are almost identical. The music is mostly mellifluous, but at times “spiced-up” with some multiphonics. As might be expected, Lille dans for solo harp is simple and straightforward, and perfectly lives up to its title. Similarly Swan Descending, also for solo harp, is another delicately wrought miniature of great charm.

King, Queen and Ace, a concertino for harp and thirteen instruments, composed in 1989 and dedicated to Sofia Claro and the Esbjerg Ensemble, was at that time Nørgård’s most substantial work for harp. As implied by the title, the piece is laid-out in three movements: The King of Spades (Prelude and March), The Queen of Spades (Prelude and Song) and The Ace of Spades (Prelude and Waltz). One of the most striking features is that each prelude strongly contrasts with the ensuing section. This is particularly evident in the second movement, in which the high-pitched shrieks from the woodwind heard in the Prelude sharply contrast with the ensuing eerie and delicately scored Song. Similarly, the straightforward Prelude of the first movement is in sharp relief with the slightly ironic March. So, too, in the third movement The Ace of Spades, in which the relatively assertive Prelude leads into a subdued, autumnal Waltz.

Hedda Gabler for viola, harp and piano was written as incidental music to the BBC TV production of Ibsen’s drama. It consists of seventeen short movements of strongly contrasting character that may probably make more sense when heard in their original context. As a suite of short mood pieces, the music may nevertheless be appreciated in much the same way as, say, Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives or Webern’s Bagatelles. One might also be tempted to compare this score with that of Babette’s Feast, although the latter is rather more single-mindedly orientated, in that its short movements sound like period pieces, original or simply reworked. The music for Hedda Gabler is on the whole more abstract and generally more personal.

Consolazione: Flos ut rosa (2002, solo harp) and Gennem torne (“Through Thorns”) are related, in that they both draw on an early song Flos ut rosa composed in the 1970s, although this may not be readily evident. I would not have been aware of this, if I had not read it in the insert notes. Consolazione is yet another beautiful miniature, whereas Gennem torne for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet is a substantial piece and a substantial chamber concerto in all but name. It is a large-scale single movement falling into neatly contrasted sections, the whole amounting to one of the most attractive recent works by Nørgård.

The most recent piece here is the short, atmospheric Mens toner daler. Vårsol med fregner (“Notes falling. Spring sun with freckles”), as beautifully written as any of the other works in this release. Again, this is an atmospheric miniature with a slightly oriental ring, in which the harp seems to evoke the sounds of the Japanese koto.

In short, a magnificent release superbly played by Tine Rehling who has a long and close association with Nørgård’s music for harp and by the various uncredited members of the Esbjerg Ensemble. By the way, there is another recording of King, Queen and Ace (Joanna Kozielska and the Århus Sinfonietta conducted by Søren K. Hansen) on Kontrapunkt 32140, that may be worth looking for since that disc also includes some pieces for sinfonietta by Nørgård. Natural and clear recording. Admirers of Nørgård’s music will need no further recommendation, but I firmly believe that many others will find much to relish in this most desirable release. My record of the month.

Hubert Culot

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