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
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,
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.