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Poul RUDERS (b. 1949)
Light Overture (2006)a [9:20]
Cembal d’Amore: First Book (1985/6)b [23:32]
Credo (1996)c [5:43]
Air with Changes (1993)d [5:45]
The Second Nightshade (1991)e [16:45]
Stephen Gosling (piano)b; Steven Beck (harpsichord)b; June Han (harp)d; Alabama Symphony Orchestraa; Odense Symphony Orchestrace; Justin Brownac, Paul Manne
rec. Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center, Jemison Concert Hall, Birmingham, Alabama, 8 November 2006 (Light Overture); American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City, no date (Cembal d’Amore); Theatre C, The performing Arts Center, Purchase College, Purchase NY, 24 October 2006 (Air with Changes) and Carl Nielsen Hall, Odense Koncerthus, Odense, Denmark, February 2005 (Credo) and 26 May 2006 (The Second Nightshade)
BRIDGE 9237 [61:10]


Experience Classicsonline

Poul Ruders was trained as an organist but is largely self-taught in composition. For anyone who has heard his music this background is hard to credit as the listener cannot but be impressed by the remarkable wealth of invention, imagination and expertise displayed in his wide-ranging output. His catalogue includes many orchestral works, chamber and vocal music as well as music-theatre pieces and operas, such as The Handmaid’s Tale (2000) available on DaCapo 8.224165-66 and Kafka’s Trial (2005) available on DaCapo 8.2260042-3.

Bridge Records have already devoted four volumes to his music; and I reviewed two of them some time ago. Here comes the fifth volume that, like Volume 4 (which I have not reviewed), offers a mix of orchestral and chamber works from various periods of his prolific composing life. The earliest dates from 1986 and the most recent from 2006.

Light Overture, subtitled “A Symphonic Entertainment”, was commissioned by the Alabama Symphony Orchestra for the Alabama Power Company in celebration of the company’s 100th anniversary. True to the work’s title, the music has an outdoor character and shows the composer in a particular accessible manner, although it also has some darker corners. This admittedly occasional work is hugely enjoyable and superbly scored. Anyone who has heard any Ruders knows that he is a master orchestrator who always manages to find new and often surprising ways to use conventional orchestral forces. This delightful work is no exception in this respect.

Cembal d’Amore is the earliest work here. Book One, heard here, was completed in 1986. Twenty years later Ruders composed a second book that might be recorded in the future. The sleeve-notes tell us that the cembal d’amore (or clavecin d’amour) is a louder version of the clavichord, developed in 1721 by the German instrument builder Gottfried Silbermann. Appropriately enough, Ruders’ work, composed to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Domenico Scarlatti, Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friedrich Handel, is cast as a baroque suite for harpsichord and piano. Although the music often alludes to baroque forms and technique, it never quotes any, except in the fourth movement that briefly references Handel. The piece opens with a short, arresting Ouverture followed by a substantial Allemande. The third movement is a relentless Corrente that moves along at full speed as a perpetuum mobile in an almost minimalist manner. The Sarabande quotes from Handel’s Sarabande in d minor; but in a fairly oblique way; Handel’s tune is approached gradually before disappearing quickly “like a mirage viewed across the centuries” (David Starobin). The suite is then capped by a Toccata Ribatuta opening slowly with material from the Sarabande before developing considerable energy until reaching an almost frantic conclusion. I was a bit doubtful at first concerning the effectiveness of the combination of piano and harpsichord; but I now confirm that this brilliantly conceived work is a real winner, the more so since the composer has cleverly and effectively eschewed any attempt at baroque parody. I would now be really eager to hear the second book.

The short Credo for two violins, clarinet and strings was commissioned on the occasion of Sir Yehudi Menuhin’s 80th birthday. This, too, might be regarded as yet another occasional piece; but Ruders always succeeds in conveying some of his thoughts and concerns in anything he composes. This short piece is an intense, deeply-felt tribute in which the composer allows his music to sing, although it may again have its share of dissonance. The end-result is at times reminiscent of, say, Vasks or Tüür, in its tense lyricism. This is a really lovely work that deserves to be heard.

Air with Changes for harp is in total contrast with any of the other works recorded here. It is a short set of variations on a Danish folk tune Harpen’s kraft (“The Power of the Harp”). Here is Ruders at his most readily accessible. The music is tuneful, often subtle and straightforward. The piece sometimes brought Britten to mind, and none the worse for that.

With The Second Nightshade, one is now back in Ruders’ more familiar territory. Although subtitled A Symphonic Nocturne, the piece is much more of a nightmare than an atmospheric reverie. The music rises from the depths of the orchestra with the ominous rumbling of the bass drum out of which unfolds strongly atmospheric nightmarish textures that would have been entirely appropriate in a film score for a Hammer horror movie. The violins then embark on an intense melody while the lower instruments move into double time, thus creating a complex polyphony eventually reaching an unsettling climax signalling the final section Serene (not that serene). A dark chorale played by lower strings, winds and brass slowly unfolds against a backdrop of fragments of material from earlier sections of the work until the piece reaches its eerie conclusion. This gripping piece of music bears ample proof of Ruders’ orchestral mastery and flair for arresting textures.

Judging by what is to be heard here, performances and recording are excellent and serve Ruders’ personal sound-world well.

This fifth volume of Bridge’s continuing Ruders series is, I believe, the one to start with. If you have never heard any of his music the different works recorded here perfectly signpost the composer’s musical progress as well as illustrating the variety of his output. This is a beautifully produced release.

Hubert Culot



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