Knut VAAGE (b. 1961)
Hokkaidos hagar (2004)a [27:08]
Kyklop (2008)b [17:11]
Chaconne (2000)c [20:12]
Einar Røttingen (piano)a; Gro Sandvik (flute)c; Turid Kniejski (harp)c;
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Ingar Bergbya, Eivind Aadlandb, Ole Kristian Ruudc
rec. NRK, Grieghallen, Bergen, October 2005 (Hokkaidos hagar), December 2009 (Kyklop) and December 2000 (Chaconne)
AURORA ACD 5072 [64:41]
The otherwise very good insert notes by Magnus Anderson go into some detail about memory and oblivion as well as about Zen. They delve into how the latter could be related to the music of the main work here Hokkaidos hagar (“The Gardens of Hokkaido”). Ultimately they tell us little except that a short gesture - an accented bass note followed by a rapid passage in the instrument’s middle register - heard at the very beginning of the work keeps returning in one guise or another throughout. That gesture functions as an anchor point to which the music regularly returns before venturing into a new episode (this is for the ‘oblivion and memory’ thing). Anderson is at pains to explain how Zen may actually interfere with our Western conception of music and our perception of it. He eventually concludes that “Zen is about experiencing the work as you listen to it. It is not about realising that you have to listen, but about actually listening”. Well, this is fair enough, I would say, but that is what the honest and open-eared music-lover actually does: the listener listens to the music and let his/her imagination do the rest. So, back to the music. The title might suggest Zen gardens that abound in temples throughout Japan. These form oases of calm in the midst of big busy cities such as Tokyo or Kyoto. However, here the music is in fact rather animated as it unfolds alternating contrasted episodes. One of the most noteworthy features on display is Vaage’s ear for telling orchestral scoring. Hokkaidos hagar is a very fine and attractive piece of music that some might find a tad too long for its own good. I enjoyed it enormously.
Similarly, Kykop (“Cyclops”) might also suggest some programmatic intent. One might indeed think of Jason and the Argonauts. This is obviously not the case and the music is abstract and the work as a whole is rather a study in dark timbres, as Magnus Anderson rightly suggests in his insert notes. In contrast with Hokkaidos hagar the music here does not develop; rather it is concerned with opposing blocks of sound and with contrasting extremes of instrumental set-up and dynamic. The result is an imposing, monolithic piece, well served by Vaage’s remarkable orchestral flair.
Unlike those of the other two pieces the very title of Chaconne suggests an abstract piece. However, Chaconne is in effect a double concerto for flute and harp cast as a set of free variations as befits any well-behaving chaconne. Vaage nevertheless blurs the contours of the traditional chaconne so that the initial chord sequence on which the work is based is not always easily discernible.
Vaage’s name and music were new to me before receiving this CD for review. I am glad that I asked for it for here is a composer who writes well crafted, superbly scored and often impressive music that repays repeat hearings. The three works recorded here have many things in common. They hint at a clearly personal voice and, as mentioned earlier, all three display a remarkable orchestral flair as well as a real ability for long-term thinking. This release is well worth exploring both for the quality of the music and the very fine performances of these often exacting scores.
Hubert Culot 

Vaage’s music is well worth investigating especially in such fine performances.