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Olav Anton THOMMESSEN (b.1946)
BULL's eye (2003) [34:17]
Please Accept my Ears for violin and piano (1981) [5:46]
Cantabile (Etyde-cadenza) for solo violin (1995) [14:33]
Peter Herresthal (violin)
Gonzalo Moreno (piano)
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra /Rolf Gupta
rec. May 2005, Oslo Concert Hall, Norway (BULLís Eye), November 2005 (Please Accept my Ears) and December 1996 at Lindemansalen, Norges musikkhøgskole, Oslo, Norway (Cantabile)
BIS-SACD-1512 [55:35]

Olav Anton Thommessen has long been a significant figure in Norwegian musical life, having initiated the creation of the Norwegian Music Information Centre as well as the composition department at the Norwegian Academy of Music. He studied in the US in the 1960s, where his name became associated with Xenakis at Indiana University. Thommessenís work has often been closely connected with external musical influences, so that his use of a newly discovered manuscript of Ole Bullís Violin Concerto in A major as a source for inspiration might be seen as the most recent in a line which includes a Macrofantasy over Griegís Piano Concerto in A minor and Choral Symphony over Beethovenís Eighth.

The concerto BULLís eye is written for solo violin and double orchestra. The piece opens with confident, harmonic-rich major chords which promise a stimulating ride. Bullís original concerto was apparently left as an orchestral score without the solo part, which would have been largely improvised. Thommessen describes his development of this work as Ďa symphonic wrapping of the original score with the violin part acting as an intermediaryí. What one ultimately ends up with is two violin concertos at the same time, with the solo violin pitted against a huge orchestra which flits between the classico-romantic idiom of Bull and Thommessenís own post-post-modernism. The borders are dismantled, and one is never quite sure if what one is hearing is Bull or Thommessen - almost. Another boarder which almost caused the whole thing to fall apart was when, while composing the piece, Thommessen learnt of the existence of another score of Bullís concerto in his own hand, this time with the violin part intact. You can almost sense this discovery pricking Thommessenís balloon: the piece winds down with the stage lights fading out, and the violins of the orchestra standing up and playing a cadenza along with the soloist. The single spotlight fades, and the soloist concludes in the dark together with Bullís original four-part music for violin on a tape.

To me, a basic measure for assessing a new piece like this is, Ďdo I want to hear it again?í The answer to this question here is a resounding YES. There is a huge amount going on in both the orchestra and solo part, making me want to get hold of the score and go through it with a fine toothcomb. I am predisposed toward the juxtaposition of the old and the new, and if you enjoy Schnittkeís approach in this way you will almost certainly find this work stimulating and enjoyable. If Schnittkeís work is black and white photography, then Thommessenís is a Turner oil painting cut out and pasted over the top as a rich and colourful collage. Sparkling percussion, curtains of string sound, pungent glissandi, gritty bass pedal tones, coy resolutions and moments of piercing expressiveness all combine to rearrange the listenerís hairdo to the opposite of what it was when the piece started.

The first of the other works on this CD is Please accept my ears, which was written as a Ďsounding messageí, supposedly communicating the sonological theories that Thommessen and his colleague Lasse Thoresen were devising in the 1970s. The characteristic timbre of each instrument and how they interact in a roomís acoustic are taken into consideration, and the work certainly possesses a straightforward clarity which poses few intrinsic difficulties for the listener. The workís abstract nature is possibly less appealing than the idiomatic diversity of the concerto, but as a concert piece it possesses a power and inevitability of purpose all its own.

The solo violin work Cantabile (Study-cadenza) was of course written long before the Concerto was conceived, but shows Thommessenís fascination with the dualities inherent in cantabile playing and the technical virtuosity demanded by the traditions of cadenza improvisation. This is as much a showpiece for Peter Herresthalís superb musicianship as the concerto, and he maintains a fascinating monologue for this pieceís extended duration.

BISís production values are as ever up to the highest standard on this hybrid SACD recording. I recommend it on the strength of the performances, the recording, and the quality of the compositions, all of which make this something of a must for the new music enthusiast.

Dominy Clements


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