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Per NØRGARD (b.1932)
Unendlicher Empfang (1997) for 2 pianos* [16:46]
Remembering (1989) [8:03]
Stadier (2002) [4:15]
Achilles and the Tortoise (1983) [10:20]
Rolf HIND (b.1964)
Das Unenthüllte (2003) for violin and piano [12:00]
Violin Sonata “The Secret Melody” (1993) for solo violin [14:13]
Rold Hind (piano)
Nicolas Hodges (piano)*
David Alberman (violin)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 20-21 November 2006
DACAPO 8.226037 [65:38]

Audio samples available

Per Nørgard has long been a great Dane, and something of an icon among right-thinking musicians and fans of contemporary art. A student of Holmboe and Boulanger, one can trace the lines of his creativity back to musical ancestors such as Sibelius and Nielsen in terms of the often crystalline clarity of his treatment of tonality, patterns and ‘cells’ of notes, and rhythm. This is not to say that his idiom is anything other than uncompromisingly modern, but comparing his work for piano to Ligeti or even Nancarrow, one can similarly catch snatches of jazz, a kind of acerbic minimalism, sometimes chill and hauntingly unsentimental landscapes, and an underlying humanistic passion for expressing ideas through genuine, if often elusive sonorities.
Unendlicher Empfang – translated in the booklet at Endless acceptance or Infinite reception, is written for two pianos and four metronomes. The duality of the instruments is an ideal vehicle for Nørgard’s reflection on musical ‘interferences’, where two sets of waves or patterns collide to create new ones. The two players are instructed to consider themselves both as rhythmic leaders, resulting in some passages of immense complexity. Repeated notes and patterns weave through each other, sometimes as insistent and forceful – or elemental driving rhythmic passages, sometimes as filigree quasi-canons. The four metronomes appear at a few moments in the work, being set at different speeds and illustrating the challenge all of these interfering patterns set for each other. The two pianos are well matched, both having a healthily resonant bass ‘crunch’, and the whole thing is a fascinating sonic artefact to which one can return and be amazed anew time after time.
Remembering is a reworking of Nørgard’s Viola Concerto Remembering Child from 1986, but in it he takes the opportunity to explore further the interaction of independent lines, and the patterns which emerge when they are combined. The relative introversion of this piece has a contemplative beauty, with the surprise addition of whistling from the pianist – an effect which starkly illustrates some of the tonalities in the work, and in the loneliness of its nature.
Stadier – subtitled ‘Three Small Inventions’, is indeed relatively smaller than the other works on this disc, in terms of the technical demands imposed on the pianist as well as in terms of duration. They are all based on derivations of the mathematical ‘infinity series’ from which fractal patterns are created, resulting in tone rows which ‘grow’ in an organic way. In this way, simplicity and complexity combine in a new ‘interference’ which can be unexpectedly attractive.
Achilles and the Tortoise is probably the best known work on this disc, and what Nørgard calls his ‘tour de force’ of piano writing. The title refers to the paradox described by the Greek philosopher Zeno, which ‘proves’ in mathematical terms that the athletic Achilles can never catch up with a tortoise, given that the tortoise is provided with a head start. In a similar way to some of Nancarrow’s studies, the work plays with relative speeds, and the ways in which the listener perceives them. The results are indeed a technical tour de force, and pianist Rolf Hind deals with them with deceptive ease. The relationships between slow movement, the layers of speed and the clashes which result, are conjured with startling clarity, resulting in an experience of remarkable intensity.
Rolf Hind’s work Das Unenthüllte or ‘The Unrevealed’ derives its title from the novel ‘Flicker’ by Theodore Roszak, a story which revolves around medieval heretics wiped out in droves by the Catholic Church. Hind employs a number of interesting effects, including damped strings, whistling and humming, sub-harmonics from the violin; and at the end of the last of three movements, a metal ball rolled along the pianos lowest two strings. The work is a slow ballet of gesture and statement, the sonorities of violin and piano interacting like a ponderous musical machine made by Jean Tinguely’s evil uncle. The theatrical elements in the work are to a certain extent related in the violinist’s movement around the sound-stage and increasingly closer to the microphone, but as a piece of music to set the imagination racing it ultimately left me a bit cold.
The final work on this CD is Per Nørgard’s solo Violin Sonata “The Secret Melody”. It has five movements, all of which are based in some way on the same ‘secret’ melodic pattern, the clarity of which is constantly in a state of microtonal flux, with some fascinating quarter-tone double-stopping here and there. Contrasts with simultaneous sustained and pizzicato notes and some improbably wide intervals sometimes give the impression that there is more than one violin involved in this piece, and I take my hat off to David Alberman’s admirable technique. The title, from Vietnamese astrophysicist Trinh Xuan Thuan, closely adheres to the author’s central proposal; ‘that the order of the universe – the workings of Mind of God – can be glimpsed, but never truly grasped.’
While not easy listening, this disc is an excellent survey of Per Nørgard’s piano music, and can be recommended on any number of levels. I wonder at the wisdom of the playing order, and would personally have concluded the programme with one of the bigger piano pieces, but giving The Secret melody its own space has other merits so I don’t consider this a major point. The recordings are all excellent, and fans of juicy piano sound will certainly ‘dig’ Unendlicher Empfang. Anyone up for a stimulating challenge and a voyage of intellectual discovery will find much to appreciate in this passionately performed release.
Dominy Clements


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