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. 24-26 April 2007, 25-28 March 2008, Turku Concert Hall. DDD
ALBA ABCD 288 [60:55]
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 music.
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.