The Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen had his 75th birthday in
2007. He has moved through various phases from his early years
of being in awe of Bartók and Stravinsky to serialism and onwards
to the new simplicity.
These two CDs provide an opportunity to address his more recent music.
His Concerto Grosso for string quartet and symphonic ensemble
is a work of shreds of ideas, motes of melody and insect-like
rhythmic patterning. There is a Rousseau-like jungle hush about
this work – something of Villa-Lobos's Amazon. It’s also
characterised by minimal means and slender tendrils of sound.
We learn from Jens Cornelius that this work is amongst the composer’s
longest. We hear a live recording of the famous Kronos quartet
and members of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. They
gave the premiere in 1990. This is the second revised version.
The first one was also on Dacapo 8.224060. The composer says
he has become interested in transparency as the years have passed
and that is very evident from listening to this piece.
Moving Still was a commission for the H C Andersen bicentenary
celebrations in 2005. It's for baritone - here Paul Hillyer
– and string quartet. It's a very contrasting diptych in two
big segments. There is a nervily iterative minimalist first
movement in which words are spoken across the music -much of
the narration involves counting. It is followed by a contented
and disorientatingly melodic fantasy around a well-loved settings
of Andersen's In Denmark I was Born. The string quartet
is joined by a taped track where the tenor gentle confides -
across right and left tracks - three layers of the song. The
piece fades into a shredded harmonic shimmer recalling Kastchei's
Garden in The Firebird.
Last Ground is dedicated to the Kronos and is for quartet
and recorded sounds of the ocean. The composer spent time on
the island of Samsø close to the sea. The work reflects a fascination
with the sea's violence. Crashing breakers and the cries of
gulls are gradually joined by the pismire moans and groans of
the quartet. There is a slow arrival of longer dactyls of melody
and these evolve, subtly twist and turn and slide out of focus.
The crashing sea returns at 8:34 mixed with instrumental fabric.
This is more of a meditation on the sea's violence than a direct
reflection of it.
There are two works on the second disc. Plateaux for piano
and orchestra is in nine movements just like the hectically
detailed piano concerto by the Finn Kimmo Hakola (Ondine). It
plays for just short of 38 minutes and the division into movements
is unusual for him. Gudmundsen-Holmgreen has written a Violin
Concerto and a Cello Concerto and these works are in single
continuous stretches. The music in this case is unconventional
and is certainly like no other piano concerto I know. It is
a series of miniature essays and character sketches. These are
minimally instrumented. Brass snarl in terse threat. Little
shards of jazzy motifs shudder and slur. Brut (4) sets
off a stamping and threatening pattern and there’s even more
belligerent snarling from the deep brass. The ruthless piano
tramping is a shade of Stravinskian rites. The piano acts as
a stony agent provocateur - an inciter to violence. The
demeanour of the music changes in the eighth movement where,
of a sudden, the music seems to be warmed into congeniality
and optimistically sunny confidence. The piano takes on a rhetorical
heroic stance. This smile moves into the finale movement En
majeur. Those last two movements invoke a collage of the
shades of Vaughan Williams, Copland and Mozart (Piano Concerto
No. 26). Exciting textures and mystery: what more can you ask?
Pairing this with the Hakola would make for a fascinating concert.
You could add Luigi Nono's Como una ola de fuerza e luz
just for good measure.
For Piano is from 1992 and is his most extensive piece for
solo piano. It's in three movements. Stuttering discontinuity
and sudden accesses of fluency characterise the music. Lullaby
seems about to launch lazily into PMD's Farewell to Stromness
but instead rocks gently with smooth-edged skirling and
crooning fragments. The final section is more upstart and explosive.
These two separately available SACDs sound startlingly vivid. After all
they need to accommodate the crystalline extremes of quiet and
the gruff laconic brass attack of works like Plateaux.