Per NØRGÅRD (b. 1932)
Piano works
Animals in Concert (1984/87) [15:09]
Cob Weaver and Other Secrets on the Way (2002) [3:40]
Nine Friends (1984) [22:25]
Fragments I-IV (1959-61) [4:55]
Nine Studies Op.25B (1959) [10:21]
Four Sketches Op.25A (1959) [3:05]
Erik Kaltoft (piano)
rec. Carl Nielsen Academy of Music, May and October 2008
DACAPO 8.226089 [59:34]

Per Nørgård’s piano works include major contributions to the repertoire such as the two piano sonatas. Significant works such as Grooving and Turn from the late 1960s and early 1970s have also achieved ‘classic’ status. There are also numerous shorter pieces for piano, of which this programme is a selection.

There is an intriguing mixture of fun and seriousness here. That said, even where lighter elements, such as The Beatles quote used, ‘Blackbird’, in Light of a Night – Paul meets bird the composer is always exploring and conjoining the related and the disparate. In all three of the Animals in Concert there are serious ideas being worked out and developed, at the same time as our imaginations are being filled with A Tortoise’s Tango or the Hermit Crab Tango, neither of which being likely to receive a selection to accompany a turn in ‘Strictly Come Dancing.” Cob Weaver and Secrets on the Way are two of a number of occasional pieces Nørgård has written for birthday celebrations or the like. The first is akin to a kind of quasi-accelerating Nancarrow-like tone row, which is then subdued through a brief transition, added later to connect it to the dreamlike Secrets...

Nine Friends is a set of pieces, each dedicated to a male or female friend, the suite connected by a song-like theme which appears in four of the movements, the whole progressing from innocent simplicity to virtuoso bravura. Nørgård suggests this is a kind of “Danish little brother to Elgar’s magnificent “Enigma” Variations, using only the first names of the friends referred to as a way of heightening his connection. The opening Secret One (To Lars) has an almost folk-like feel, initially almost wanting to break out into Nielsen’s ‘Puppet March’. The moods range from charming miniature in Tiny (to Lasse), to rough tango in Illusive (to Per), and as always with Nørgård there are symmetries, mirror images, and elusive musical double-entendres aplenty.

The Fragments I-IV represent the first of Nørgård’s preoccupation with the fractal ‘infinity series’, which he discovered or ‘re-discovered’ in 1959. This technique involves the potential in shifts in the scale of musical material akin to the familiar fractal patterns now relatively easily reproduced on computer screens. There were no home computers in 1959, but the advance of such a technique and the results fit in well with the exploratory mood in the musical landscape of the time. The Fragments are pre-dated by the 1959 Nine Studies, in which the germination of these can be traced in the ‘development of a few-note nucleus into a long melody’ ideas and structures in the pieces and the form of the works as a whole. Despite the ‘research-lab’ origins and feel of these pieces, Nørgård never entirely abandons tonality, and there are some nice witty touches at the heart of the Nine Studies which prevent this becoming a dry academic exercise by a long way. Also from 1959 come the Four Sketches, a kind of ‘little sister’ to the Nine Studies and premiered at the same concert in 1960. The family resemblance between the two works is clear, though the Sketches are lighter and less complex in nature.

Per Nørgård’s work is hardly ever less than entirely fascinating, and as some of these pieces show, can also be hugely entertaining. All of the works here are played with a fine touch by Erik Kaltoft, and given a nicely recorded if fairly warm and woolly ambience. I might have argued for a chronological sequence with regard to the programming, at least when it comes to the developing sequence of ‘fractal’ works, here somewhat perversely reversed. There is no doubt a good reason for this, and it’s only a small point. This release provides a valuable look into some of the less well-trodden paths of Nørgård’s pianistic output, and as a result should be snapped up by serious collectors.

Dominy Clements