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Niels MARTHINSEN (b.1963)
Symphony no.2 Snapshot (2009) [30:29]
Concerto, In the Shadow of the Bat, for three trombones and orchestra (2009) [19:38]
Snow White’s Mirror - Opera Trailer (2010) [12:53]
The King of Utopiaville Demo (2009) [6:56]
HÅkan Björkman, Stefan Schulz, Jörgen van Rijen (trombones)
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Christian Lindberg
rec. Engholm Church, Copenhagen, December 2009. DDD
DACAPO 8.226545 [56:23]

Experience Classicsonline

Dacapo are always willing to push the boundaries of art music, but the outcome is not always felicitous. A year ago, for example, Jexper Holmen's Oort Cloud (review) gave the world forty minutes of dense, slow, swirling ethereal accordion and saxophone sonorities punctuated by shrill outbursts in the name of experimentalism; whether or not many would give it more than a few minutes, only time will tell. Here, the Danish composer Niels Marthinsen, a kind of Scandinavian Michael Daugherty, welcomes "comic books, superheroes and science fiction" into his symphonic music. The results, it is probably fair to say, fall into the love ’em or loathe ’em category.

In Marthinsen's own words, the three movements of the Symphony can be characterised thus: "a red-hot, chili-pepperish mariachi mosaic - Mexican party music staged at an ever-accelerating tempo, mixed with potent bullfighter fanfares [...] The ancient music of the sands of Arabia mixes with belly-dancer music and the modern Middle Eastern pop that gradually takes over when the starry night gets too cold to be out in [...] a giant firework display of Chinese melodies in a virtuoso high-octane orchestral paint-box: flaming dragons, aerial bombs, incandescent volcanoes, white snakes and fantastic lucky rockets that scare away the evil demons." Not to be taken on an empty stomach, clearly.

The work's title comes from Marthinsen's own input into the work, in which he sees the "expressions on the faces of total strangers in a holiday snapshot showing feelings you recognize in yourself." The music is repetitious, under-developed, predictable, but it is well-organised, tuneful, picturesque and boisterous - something like an exotic street carnival taking a long time to pass by the window of someone who is trying to get some sleep. For those brought up on the profound, sophisticated music of Marthinsen's compatriots Nielsen, Holmboe or NørgÅrd on the other hand, his music may well seem like interminable self-indulgence: not only does he use pop refrains, he sometimes cudgels the listener with them - the modus operandi of pop music, in fact.

The Aarhus Symphony Orchestra make the most of the material, however, deftly directed by Christian Lindberg. Lindberg is a fine trombonist, and as soloist has given the premieres of many notable trombone concertos over the last 25 years, not least Jan Sandström's notorious Motorbike Concerto - so he is no stranger to stylistic flamboyance. Yet Marthinsen's Triple Trombone Concerto, though heavily reliant on ostinatos and one or two other clichés of post-modern music, is rather more dignified than the Snapshot Symphony, even though it tells the story of the comic-book superhero Batman. The alto, tenor and bass trombones, representing his arch-enemies The Joker, Two-Face and The Penguin, are ultimately done down by the combined forces of the orchestra. This is, by some distance, the most interesting music on the disc, and stands up to repeated hearing well.

The two shorter works are tasters for Marthinsen's operas - the terms 'Demo' and 'Opera Trailer' are part of the titles. In all likelihood they are as much as most people will ever hear, or want to hear. Snow White’s Mirror is more conventional orchestral fare than what has gone before, serious-minded, cinematographic and melodic, but not especially memorable - if this is the 'best of', no one really need go any further. The King of Utopiaville Demo is the final track, which means it can, rather conveniently, easily be avoided. It sounds like the trashy outro to a 1970s American TV soap opera starring bland people.

Sound quality is reasonable without being excellent - the recording sounds in some registers more like a high-bitrate mp3 than lossless. The booklet is detailed and informative. Marthinsen's genre-bending music should find an audience easily, but it will have to be one with simple tastes.

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