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Concertos and Fairytales
Wolfgang PLAGGE (b.1960)
Trombone Concerto, op.138 (2005) [24:11]
Egil HOVLAND (b.1924)
Trombone Concerto, op.76 (1972) [20:29]
Magne AMDAHL (b.1942)
Elegi (1970) [4:02]
Torstein AAGAARD-NILSEN (b.1964)
Fanfares and Fairytales – Trombone Concerto No. 2 (2003) [24.42]
P K Svensen (trombone)
Malmö Symfoniorkester/Terje Boye Hansen; Christoph König (Hovland)
rec. 2005 Malmö Concert Hall. DDD
2L 2L35 [73:24] 
Experience Classicsonline

There’s some very interesting music-making going on in Norway, if only we knew about it. Here’s a fascinating sampling of four very enjoyable examples of trombone fare.

The idea of a Trombone Concerto isn’t a new one, but apart from an handful by composers such as Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Michael Haydn, Leopold Mozart and Georg Christoph Wagenseil, and more recently, Rimsky Korsakov, it’s the 20th century and the appearance of the trombone virtuoso which has created the repertoire the instrument now enjoys. The language in the first three works is straightforward and easy to comprehend. There’s nothing here which is against the instruments employed. 

Wolfgang Plagge started playing the piano and composing when only four years old, and had his first work published eight years later. Since then he has built an impressive catalogue – liturgical music, symphonic works, chamber and piano music, but with specific interest in music for wind instruments – and he was one of the producers for this disk. His Concerto is lyrical and fun with a serious slow movement. 

Egil Hovland studied at the Oslo Conservatory with Bjarne Brustad, in Copenhagen with Vagn Holmboe, Tanglewood with Aaron Copland and Florence with Luigi Dallapiccola. Since 1949, he has been organist and choir-master in the Glemmen Church in Fredrikstad, his home town, and is one of the most prolific of Norwegian composers. This Concerto is cheekily neo-classical, the three movements following one another without a break and the finale employs jazz and dance rhythms. A very enjoyable and colourful work. I’ve often wondered why we seldom hear of Hovland. I hope that this work will gain him some new friends. 

Magne Amdahl’s contribution is far too short, but it is beautiful and heartfelt, exploiting the singing quality of the trombone, but not without some unusual twists and turns. 

Fanfares and Fairytales is a different matter entirely. Torstein Aagaard–Nilsen is probably the best known of these four composers, and that is because of his contribution to the brass band repertoire which is heard in this country with some regularity. He knows the medium from the inside, having played cornet in the Manger Musikklag, one of Norway’s leading bands, for five years and he spent his national service in the armed forces as composer/arranger for the professional military bands in Norway. Fanfares and Fairytales is a serious work which was written for, and premièred by, P K Svensen. Aagaard-Nilsen has written, “There is an air of excitement over the fairytales where anything can happen and where the powers of Chaos always are to be taken into consideration … In working on Fanfares and Fairytales I felt the need of a hectic working pace. There is not the sense of a soloist being accompanied by an orchestra and there are a lot of different things going on at the same time … Sometimes they compete; sometimes they cooperate in layers of activity with different dynamics. I consider the work to be active and extrovert … The last part of the piece … moves to an abrupt ending, like most fairytales I ever read.” Certainly dialogue as understood in the classical Concerto is lacking, even the supposed duet between muted trombone and side-drum which constitutes the middle movement – named Cadenza - has both instruments making their separate ways without interacting. This is the opposite of what happens in Nielsen’s Flute Concerto when the soloist’s space is invaded by the bass trombone. You might be forgiven for thinking that the forces of Chaos are unleashed in the outer movements but what a confrontation occurs when this happens. Aagaard-Nilsen takes us into a strange and fascinating sound-world and our Prince Charming isn’t always that delightful to be with. He’s argumentative, unpleasant and not a good host at all, but it’s safer to be with him than with the orchestra. Despite what the composer writes, this is a true concerto where soloist and orchestra undergo hand-to-hand combat with both ending victorious. An exciting finish to a very exhilarating and rewarding disk. 

Terrific, bright, recording with a large dynamic range, the soloist set slightly apart from the orchestra but with a genuine perspective between them. Very good notes too. 

This isn’t a disk for everybody, and it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted, but for anyone with an interest in what’s happening in Norway today, and what’s happening in contemporary concerto composition, this is an absolute must.

Bob Briggs


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