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Pehr Henrik NORDGREN (1944 – 2008)
Symphony for Strings Op.43 (1978) [19:10]
Concerto for Strings Op.54 (1982) [21:59]
The Whole World Will Lament Op.26b (1968, rev. 1974) [4:00]
Concerto for Oboe and Strings Op.116 (2001) [21:40]
Anni Haapaniemi (oboe); Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra/Juha Kangas
rec. Snellman Hall, Kokkola, Finland, 4-5 May 2009 (Oboe Concerto) and 1-3 December 2008 (other works)
ALBA ABCD 294 [67:32]


Experience Classicsonline

During his long composing life Nordgren wrote more than twenty works for Juha Kangas and his Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra. One of his very last works, the Concerto for Organ and Chamber Orchestra Op.143 (2007), was first performed by them in January 2009.
Their first collaboration was the short The Whole World Will Lament Op.29b. Originally composed in 1968 for small amateur orchestra, it was reworked for strings in 1974. This straightforward arrangement of a hymn tune was nevertheless to prove seminal for much of the composer’s output in that the first five notes of the hymn tune (E-G-A-B-C) form what Kangas calls Nordgren’s ‘life chord’; it appears in many later works and a similar chord actually opens the Eighth Symphony of 2006.
The Symphony for Strings Op.43 is one of the first substantial works composed for the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra. It is laid out in five movements. According to the composer, as quoted in the insert notes, the first movement functions as the exposition while the second and third “represent two ways of developing an idea or expression”. The fourth movement is a rather short intermezzo acting as a bridge into the long final movement. The music quite often brings Bartók to mind in its intensity and rhythmic energy although it is entirely Nordgren’s own throughout.
Composed several years later the Concerto for Strings Op.54 is yet another substantial work in three movements. Each bears a title (Premonitions of bad days, Dance away your worries! and Belated prayer for achieving fulfilment). These titles were – according to Kangas – added after the work had been completed. The composer, however, mentioned that “[he wanted] the titles of the movements to guide the listener’s thoughts in a certain direction, though without confining him”. Although they are not obviously meant to convey a programme, these titles nevertheless give some idea of the music and of what it may be about. So, the first movement is “vague and probing” (Nordgren) whereas the second is a scherzo attempting to dispel the rather tense atmosphere of the first. The long concluding movement has a hymn-like quality suggesting that there may yet be some faint gleam of hope.
Nordgren had long dreamed of composing a concerto for oboe and strings. The Swedish musician Helén Jahren, to whom Nordgren’s Oboe Concerto Op.116 is dedicated, suggested that he might do so and seize the opportunity to use some more advanced playing techniques. This might at least show that the oboe is capable of more than just pastoral reverie. Nordgren, however, was not particularly keen about using such techniques so that his Oboe Concerto often confines the oboe in its more usual pastoral mode of expression. The music is mostly based on a nine-note motto heard at the outset to which the three “missing” notes are sometimes added, thus transforming the motto into a twelve-tone row. As is often the case in Nordgren’s music, folk-inflected elements are part of the musical fabric but the music never quotes folk material. The overall mood of the work is rather elegiac in which slow tempi predominate although there are some terser, tenser moments disrupting the contemplative mood. Nordgren’s Oboe Concerto is undoubtedly a substantial and often beautiful work and a major addition to the instrument’s repertoire.
Given this orchestra’s and their conductor’s long association with Nordgren’s music the performances are just splendid as is the recording, The sound of this hybrid CD is superb even when heard on a ‘normal’ CD player. Alba’s dedication to Nordgren’s music has already paid high dividends thanks to a number of very fine releases devoted to his music. I hope that they will go on exploring his large and varied output of which much is still too little known, if not ignored.
Hubert Culot


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