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Corelli Machine
Iannis XENAKIS (1922-2001) Aroura (1971) [12.05];
Olav Anton THOMMESSEN (b.1966) Corellimaskin (2002) [15.25]
Magne HEGDAL (b.1944) Form (2000) [11.57]
Ketil HVOSLEF (b.1939) Serenata per Archi (1991) [15.23]
Norwegian Chamber Orchestra/Terje Tønnesen
rec. 6-9 November 2005, Jar Church, Norway
AURORA ACD5039 [54.53]
Experience Classicsonline

It was back in 1996 that I went over to
Norway ostensibly to hear a brief work of my own but also to go to a concert a night later. That concert included what the Norwegians rather quaintly titled ‘Work of the Year’; Oh, if only we had such an award in Britain! It was won on that occasion by Magne Hegdal with his’ Grande Symphonie’. I was very impressed by it as I am by the piece which represents him on this CD. In between times I have no idea what he has been up to. I remember either a programme note or a pre-concert talk and I noted in my diary the composer talking about a “time–continuum, in which distant past, near past and present could all be musically combined into a convincing whole”. “This,” he went on, “could be a future for composition and certainly is for me.” This work is described by the composer as a ‘Time Structure’. So I went onto the internet. I quote his website ‘His style has developed into a greater stylistic openness and with a more varied and direct expression”. He had been a pupil of Finn Mortensen from whom he learned how to use controlled improvisation in orchestral works. 

The work under consideration, simply entitled ‘Form’ here quotes a brief passage from Biber’s ‘Battalia’ written in the 1680s, I should think. The music leads towards it and after it the rhythm of the Biber takes over the musical argument leading it elsewhere. One feels its presence, as he says, in a sort of time continuum: past and present fuse. The effect is direct and the expressive nature of the music is clear. It all combines into a fascinating piece which, like much music, does not reveal itself at one or even two hearings. 

Interestingly, Olav Anton Thommessen’s ‘Corelli machine’ which gives this disc its title is, as its title suggests, from the same stable as the Hegdal. It uses a concerto from Corelli’s Op. 6. In the composer’s words he is constantly “enlarging and expanding the original material which opens the work for the first one and a quarter minutes. But as it progresses the Corelli becomes at times a gesture or even just an articulation. The piece is more about “chords, sequences and rhythm than about melodies” and the whole is put into a “machine” which regurgitates these chippings into a concerto grosso for our own times. Incidentally it was Thommessen’s opera ‘The Glass Bead Game’ which caused quite a stir in the early 1980s. 

If you call a work, ‘Serenade for strings’ you are also angling yourself back into an earlier age, to be precise, probably the classical era. That said, Ketil Hvoslef, a pupil of that fine Swedish symphonist Karl Blomdahl and perhaps the best known of these three Norwegians, does not quote older music. There is a 21st century sort of neo-classicism in the structure and dynamic of its continuous flow and it radiates a generally friendly atmosphere. 

The work by Xenakis ‘Aroura’ does not fit, either musically or geographically, into the disc's profile. Nevertheless it’s good to hear it. It begins aggressively with clusters and glissandi. I often feel with this unique composer a sense that he is filling in architectural space with sound-blocks. The sounds create the form, not a conventional one but with careful listening the form is heard as a series of blocks. You might think of these as pillars which in this work are marked by loud passages with unisons and clusters. These are split off, in the spaces between the pillars as it were, by very quiet and reflective passages. These actually take up more time much as the gaps between the pillars would take up more space in a building. Xenakis started life as a trainee architect so my comments are not as random as they might appear. The whole work consists of vast, violent, catastrophic explosions divided up by near-silences and complete silences. This is virtuoso music, carried off with great conviction and understanding. These players are each soloists in their own right as well as being superb ensemble players. The church acoustic is excellent and adds a halo to the clarity of the sound. Terje Tønnesen shows complete understanding of how to get the best out of the music and of the performers. 

The disc comes in the nowadays quite common cardboard case with a useful booklet in Norwegian and English. This covers a short essay on each piece by the composer, biographies of them and of the performers and a ‘happy holiday’-type photo of the three Norwegian composers in shorts and T-shirts. 

An interesting disc and well worth exploring although you may feel somewhat short-changed at well under an hour of music.

Gary Higginson



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