Nordgren was a Finnish composer, who wrote over 140 works. This
disc contains his final two symphonies, as well as the earlier
work, Summer Music.
The Seventh Symphony is a rich work, with a somewhat haunting
opening which uses a highly chromatic compositional language.
After a beautiful cor anglais solo, the music breaks into a folk
dance, which seems to come from nowhere and then disappears again.
The DSCH Shostakovich motif also makes regular appearances, signifying
Nordgren’s respect for the Russian composer. The folk dance returns,
and the alternating major/minor tonality eventually breaks down
impressively into atonality. Commissioned by Juha Kangas and the
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra in 2004 to commemorate Nordgren’s
sixtieth birthday and the many quotes within the work refer to
aspects of Nordgren’s life and influences. This is a work which
has a strong sense of personality and shows the Nordgren’s range.
The atonal moments of the work are as convincing as the folk themes
and there is a sense of a lifelong musical journey within the
Summer Music has an altogether brighter feel. Composed
in 1977 during a trip to Japan, the music displays strong folk-music
elements and has an enjoyable lightness of touch. The pastoral
style of the music reminds me of Nielsen, Sibelius and also even
at times Beethoven, but within Nordgren’s individual voice.
The Eighth Symphony is dedicated to Juha Kangas, in celebration
of his 60th birthday. Kangas conducts here. He had
a friendship with Nordgren since their university days. Kangas
is a staunch supporter of Nordgren’s music and has performed many
of his works. The movements are entitled Minore, Intermezzo
and Maggiore, mapping out a journey through the tonality
of the work. The Minore movement is dark, with simple textures
and repeating motivic ideas based around the interval of a minor
third. Tension is built through these repetitions, and there is
little in terms of long melodic lines. The short intermezzo
is sparsely scored, using only harp, celesta, bells and low strings,
giving a somewhat ominous feel and a peaceful link into the final
movement. Maggiore has a slow and calm opening, leading
directly out of what has come before, but with brighter major
harmonies developing and a gaining sense of momentum. Folk-influenced
themes soon take over and a plethora of melodic ideas are treated
to Nordgren’s harmonic language. Tonal melodies are heard within
a dream-like tapestry of sound. The moods change rapidly in this
music, and a darker character takes over once again, with a dramatic
ending which carries the listener along in its building momentum.
One would expect Kangas to deliver a considered and convincing
performance, and he lives up to expectations here. The Turku Philharmonic
play well throughout, and there is a sense of honesty about the
music, providing faithfulness to the score without the inclusion
of too much interpretational baggage. Nordgren’s music is contemporary
yet speaks to a wide audience. The folk elements lead a path through
his more complex language and provide an interesting and often
thought-provoking musical journey.