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In Memoriam Pehr Henrik Nordgren Pehr Henrik NORDGREN (1944-2008)
Concerto for Saxophone Quartet, String Orchestra and Gong, Op.
108 (2000)*† [22:36] Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Fratres (1977/2007)† [11:04] Áskell MÁSSON (b. 1953) Quatrain (2005)*† [19:08] Kalevi AHO (b. 1949) In Memoriam Pehr Henrik Nordgren (2009)‡ [10:29]
*Raschèr Saxophone Quartet - Christine Rall (soprano sax), Elliot
Riley (alto sax), Bruce Weinberger (tenor sax), Kenneth Coon (baritone
†Lapland Chamber Orchestra/John Storgårds
‡John Storgårds (violin)
rec. 11-13 August 2010, Rovaniemi Church, Finland. Stereo/Multichannel
ALBA ABCD 322
The Finnish composer Pehr Henrik Nordgren was certainly prolific,
with more than 140 works to his name, 32 of them concertos.
In his liner-notes Timo Ruottinen makes the point that the latter
are more accurately described as ‘concerto-like’, as they don’t
always follow the traditional pattern of soloists pitted against
a larger ensemble. That, and the intriguingly titled Concerto
for Saxophone Quartet, String Orchestra and Gong, certainly
whetted my appetite for this piece. As for Arvo Pärt’s
Fratres, it’s more familiar, but Icelandic composer Áskell
Másson’s Quatrain and Kalevi Aho’s In Memoriam Pehr
Henrik Nordgren – the latter scored for solo violin – are
new to me.
Also unfamiliar are the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet, although
John Storgårds and the Lapland Chamber Orchestra made a
lasting impression with Aho’s huge Symphony No. 12 ‘Luosto’
– which was one of my Recordings of the Year for 2008. In passing
I simply must mention two exceptional sax discs I’ve heard in
recent years; 20th-century quartets from the
Tetraphonics – review
– and the Berlin Saxophone Quartet’s set of Renaissance arrangements
The unique sound of these feisty foursomes is addictive, especially
when the repertoire – and playing – is of such high quality.
Speaking of which, the Aho symphony is one of BIS’s very best
Super Audio CDs; the Tetraphonics SACD is just as astonishing
in its presence and timbral sophistication.
Finnish label Alba caught my ear with a collection of homegrown
organ music – review
– which suggests their SACDs are on a par with those offered
by fellow Finns Fuga. Indeed, the gong that introduces the Nordgren
concerto will make you think you’ve unwittingly wandered into
a bell tower, such is its impact. This is clearly a recording
of great immediacy and range, the saxophones’ distinctive timbres
superbly caught. Influences? Hard to tell; in its more static
moments there’s a nod towards Japan, where Nordgren studied
in the early 1970s, whereas the more trenchant writing might
recall Shostakovich. In any event it’s a lively, highly virtuosic
piece, full of character and contrast.
A terrific opener, this, and proof – if it were needed – that
these Laplanders and this quartet are supremely talented. The
more intense, tightly focused passages are simply thrilling
in their mix of exoticism and urgency; even the lyrical moments
– not to mention those equivocal harmonies and strange glissandi
– catch one’s ear, helped by a recording of rare fidelity and
refinement. And what a sensible balance, dynamic extremes easily
accommodated without the need for constant knob-twiddling. Even
more impressive is the fact that the Red Book layer sounds so
good, vying with the Super Audio one in nearly every respect.
I must confess I’m not a great fan of Estonian composer Arvo
Pärt’s particular brand of minimalism, but I have enjoyed
Spiegel im Spiegel, Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten and
Fratres. The last,which exists in a number of guises,
is played here in a version for orchestra. The composer’s so-called
‘tintinnabular style’ is evident from the outset, those bell-like
sonorities and chord sequences punctuated by spine-tingling
thuds from the bass drum. It may be rather slow moving, but
Fratres has an artless, aching beauty that always catches
me by surprise. I doubt you’ll find a better played and recorded
rendition than this.
The remaining items are no less arresting. Áskell Másson’s punningly
titled Quatrain certainly highlights the contrasting
timbres of these four saxes, blending perky cross-rhythms with
piquant sonorities. The throatier voices and the light, more
songful ones are very well captured, the orchestra playing with
precision throughout. As with the other pieces on this disc,
Quatrain is accessible without sounding anodyne; whether
it’s the shimmer of bells, silvery winds or chuffing rhythms
I found myself marvelling at the originality and tonal variety
of this genial creation.
Conductor John Storgårds swaps his baton for an instrument
in the concluding piece, Aho’s In Memoriam Pehr Henrik Nordgren.
The composer has chosen the simple, elevated tones of a lone
violin for this most beguiling tribute. There are no histrionics
here, just a light, rarefied sound that soars and sings most
beautifully. Anyone familiar with Aho’s œuvre will delight
in the directness of this lovely, almost flute-like, solo. Storgårds’
melodic fluency and purity of line are just remarkable, the
instrument sensibly placed and naturally recorded.
Alba really must be congratulated for lavishing so much care
and attention on what is surely peripheral repertoire. It all
comes down to production values; everything about this release
breathes quality, from the pieces themselves to the top-notch
artists and first-rate sound.
I urge you, take a punt on this one; it’s sheer, unalloyed pleasure.
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