BIS Downloads available from http://www.eclassical.com
Anders HILLBORG (b. 1954)
King Tide (1999) [13:33]
Exquisite Corpse (2002) [13:28]
Dreaming River (1998) [20:14]
Eleven Gates (2005-06) [18:59]
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductors: Sakari Oramo (King Tide), Alan Gilbert (Exquisite
Corpse), Esa-Pekka Salonen (Dreaming River, Eleven Gates).
rec. Stockholm Concert Hall, Sweden, September 2007 (Exquisite
Corpse), December 2009 (Dreaming River, Eleven Gates)
and November 2010 (King Tide).
Anders Hillborg started out as a keyboard player in pop music during the1970s, but during studies at the Royal College of music in Stockholm his world was opened to composers like Ligeti, Reich, Xenakis and Feldman. Initially attracted by extremes of complexity, he has rejected what he calls ‘sado-modernism’, a neat phrase which dismisses the intellectual rigours of the Darmstadt School in a single sweep. Questioning tonalities, pedal tones and rich orchestral textures create some stunning effects on this superbly engineered SACD recording.
Steve Reich holds some of the secret to King Tide, whose build-up of repeated semiquavers which fade in and out reminds me of The Desert Music, as do some of the harmonies which arise after the eighth minute or so. The title refers to exceptionally high tides which occur at certain times of the year, and the wide open acoustic effect of the opening is comparable to the visual effect of those long-exposure photos of a coastal scene, in which the action of the waves and tide is turned into a rich and fascinating fog. Some of these textures build in a comparable way to the opening of Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony – which is always a real treat.
Where the overall picture of King Tide is a unified arch of softness building to a terrific climax, Exquisite Corpse goes through a remarkable range of transformations. The title derives from the collage technique adopted by some French surrealists in the 1920s, that trick where you draw or write on part of a piece of paper, fold it so the next person to make their marks can’t see what you’ve done, and so on. The result with Hillborg’s piece is indeed something of a chimera, but a spectacularly virtuoso one both from the composer and from the players. There is a certain amount of cheesy brass writing and I don’t find the piece entirely convincing on the whole, but if you like your music to be a cinematic roller-coaster ride where tribal natives can as easily pop out from behind the Empire State Building in a chase scene lit by a Chinese sun as anything else your imagination can conjure, then this is terrific fun.
Dreaming River introduces unexpected sonorities through the use of suonos or Chinese oboes. There are two of these placed left and right, and the hocket effect they can build up is a remarkable sound. The notes of these instruments are echoed by the winds of the orchestra to create minimalistic, Ligeti-like textures. The strings create a bed of sound under these effects which you notice most when it stops. Rhythmic excitement follows, and we’re soon back in 1970s car chase territory. Other than some dramatic chords, the gear change which takes us to non car-chase territory is perhaps a little clunky, but there are beautiful things going on in the Adagio which follows. A relationship to Strauss’s Metamorphosen is pointed out here by Sara Norling in her well prepared booklet notes, and the tide of polyphony here is indeed something of a wonder to behold.
Eleven Gates opens in a stunning Glenn Branca D major which you want to go on longer, but which dissolves as the story starts. This narrative is not a literal programme, but the score does take the listener on a journey through eleven sections, and ‘the imaginary gates that one passes through in moving from one to another.’ Each section is given a distinctive title, and headings such as Confused Dialogues with a Woodpecker and Toypianos on the Surface of the Sea give a sense of the relative ease with which these can be distinguished, though the sections run into each other without breaks, and I don’t think any real toy pianos appear either. Tremendous orchestration, a remarkable imagination and some intriguing musical references make this work powerfully entertaining and affecting.
BIS has once again provided us with a tremendous new listening experience with their beautifully balanced and remarkably natural SACD recording. All of these performances sound superbly prepared and the musicians have clearly given 110% in the sessions. I don’t always agree with everything Anders Hillborg does with his material, but this is a subjective point and in any case his material is strong enough to cope with being chopped around. This is a remarkable set of new orchestral works and richly deserves a listen.