Pehr Henrik NORDGREN (1944 – 2008)
Symphony No.7 Op.124 (2003) [25:23]
Summer Music Op.34 (1977) [10:36]
Symphony No.8 Op.140 (2006) [24:34]
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/Juha Kangas
rec. Turku Concert Hall, 24-26 April 2007 (Symphony No.8) and 25-28 March 2008 (other works)
ALBA ABCD 288 [60:55]

Nordgren’s Symphony No.7 Op.124 is cast in a single large arch-form. The whole work is based on a handful of material that may at first seem disparate but that ultimately is developed into an impressive whole, It nevertheless requires several hearings to yield all its secrets or – at least – most of them. The broad introduction progressively states a twelve-tone row that will later inform much of the music. Then there is a short four-note motif sounding as a transposed DSCH (Shostakovich’s signature) that reminds the listener that the Russian composer was one of Nordgren’s idols. This short episode – often played by the harp – appears later in the work to introduce new sections. There is also a polska noted down by Taklax. Incidentally, Nordgren used another of Taklax’s polskas in his popular Portraits of Country Fiddlers Op.26. Finally, the music also briefly quotes a Japanese folk-dance rhythm reminding us that Nordgren stayed in Japan, a salon piece by Winkler that the composer had come across while studying with his violin teacher Rastenberger and a short motif based on Kangas’ name. As already mentioned this varied material may at first seem rather disparate but Nordgren succeeds in weaving it all into a tightly-knit whole proceeding almost seamlessly from beginning to end. The broad opening progressively states the chromatic line. This is brought to a stop by the first appearance of the transposed DSCH motif. Some development ensues till the first forceful statement of the polska and its variants at time reaching something approximating to an Ivesian chaos. The music then progressively retreats and the symphony ends with an appeased, luminous though unresolved coda. Nordgren’s Seventh Symphony is one of his most emotionally complex works as well as one of his most deeply personal achievements.

Summer Music Op.34 is an early work composed during Nordgren’s stay in Japan. Though clearly folk-inflected the music never quotes any real folk-tune. The result is a sunny, bright work, albeit one already abounding in many Nordgren hallmarks, such as harmonic clashes and allusions to folk music.

Nordgren’s Symphony No.8 Op.140 is essentially in two large movements separated by a brief intermezzo. The music of the first movement Minore is dominated by the interval of a minor third whereas the interval of a major third prevails in the second movement Maggiore - information drawn from Kalevi Aho’s excellent insert notes. The first movement opens in a mysterious mood that will prevail throughout most of its length. The ominous character of the music still emphasised by rhythmic ostinati that sound like an inexorably ticking clock is interrupted by two short-lived outbursts; but for most of the movement’s length, “there are no broad melodies and an air of expectation prevails” (Kalevi Aho). The short Intermezzo scored for harp, celesta and chiming percussion over a low F organ point on the double-basses and cellos acts as a bridge into the second movement. This opens calmly with a heavy march rhythm anticipating the folk march that characterises the main part of the movement. As with the polska in the Seventh Symphony this marching tune is varied in many ways. After this episode, the music suddenly harks back to the material of the first movement thus creating an unsettling mood that the marching tune tries to dispel. The bright mood eventually has the upper and the symphony ends in a jubilant, though short-lived jubilant mood. The Eighth Symphony is yet another impressive achievement in its own right that magnificently crowns Nordgren’s symphonic cycle.

Nordgren managed to keep clear of all fashions and trends of his time and to remain his own man throughout his prolific composing career. He painstakingly succeeded in finding his own voice that makes his music instantly recognisable.

The Seventh and Eighth Symphonies undoubtedly place him amongst the most important and individual symphonists of his generation.

Juha Kangas has a long working association with Nordgren’s music and conducts vital readings of these impressive and often beautiful scores. The recording is superb and the production, including Kalevi Aho’s informative insert notes, is up to Alba’s best standards.

Hubert Culot

Nordgren’s symphonies on discs

Symphony No.2 Op.74 (1989)
Symphony No.4 Op.98 (1997)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Juha Kangas
Finlandia 3984-29720-2

Symphony No.3 Op.88 (1993)
Symphony No.5 Op.103 (1998)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
Ondine ODE 924-2