Anders Koppel is the son of Herman D Koppel (1908-98), about whose music and performances I have written quite extensively in past reviews. Anders is a compositional pluralist writing music that derives its power from a variety of styles and, in the past, he was a member of rock groups before his immersion into contemporary classical composition. His interest in Jazz, and in Latin Americana, is just as vivid as his enthusiasm for Balkan music, and other art forms besides.
It’s appropriate that this disc is devoted to marimba works because it was the Toccata for Vibraphone and Marimba that was his real breakthrough in the classical field in 1990 – patterned to an extent on the precedent of Milhaud’s Concerto for the same instrumental combination of 1947. Koppel has proved devoted to the Marimba. Clearly there is a Latin American feel - it’s an instrument especially popular in Mexico – but it’s also a sonority that fits his interests and enthusiasms very precisely. The Concerto No.1 was written for the final of the 1955 International Percussion Competition, held in Luxembourg. Angular marimba statements are answered sternly by the orchestra, the result being almost graphically filmic – Koppel, by the way, is a noted film composer so this isn’t a surprise. The rich colour evoked in the central movement is part of the marimba’s appeal to the composer especially when it coalesces with - or is actively delineated against - an orchestra. Koppel is wise to weigh the orchestral forces and only employ those that won’t over-balance the solo instrument. For the finale we have a bravura virtuosic fest, complete with powerful cadenza.
The Concerto No.2 is designated for Marimba and string orchestra. The passage of time is noted in the booklet notes as the point of departure in this work, but to me there’s also a real boppish quality to the rhythms – again phrasal angularity is often at the heart of his opening movement statements – and a pithy, humorous quality that emerges in the doughty little March that unveils itself. A refined almost glissando-like slow movement is merely a brief halt on the way; the finale takes up the earlier rhythmic energy and with another classically-sized cadenza pursues a droll ending. Koppel’s Late-Romantic instincts are heard in the Third Concerto, subtitled Linzer
since it was written for the Austrian player Martin Grubinger and premiered by him with the Bruckner Orchestra in Linz. The colour is bolder here – not least in respect of horns and percussion – but the same rhythmic feints and March rhythms are present. In the central movement the marimba’s virtuosity is used almost to goad the orchestra, and the rocky finale, featuring a call and response between marimba and orchestra, shows more populist elements at work.
The Fourth Concerto was commissioned by the ‘Vienna Mozart Year 2006’ and dedicated to, and first performed by, the distinguished and virtuosic Grubinger once more. There’s a freely confessed Koppel narrative at work in this concerto – a long walk, the sudden appearance of an ancient marble stone with inscription: thing both enduring yet transient are being broached. The start sounds remarkably like the fiddle’s opening flourish in Beethoven’s Kreutzer
Sonata; an arresting way to begin. Koppel draws on his Jazz background for a walking bass motif before unleashing a series of very brief, tautly suggestive movements – there are eight in total - all with different tempi, character, and colour. The job of the soloist is to colonise each separate movement with a series of different shadings and the young Polish player Marianna Bednarska does so with great facility. The hymnal element that emerges – it relates to the inscription – is heard in the marimba in the third movement, and it’s grave and noble, though Mozart and jesting are never far away in the shape of a succeeding not-so-subtle reference to the Rondo alla turca
. This is a warm, zesty work with lots going on. To end the disc there is a brief P.S. to a Concerto
, dating from the year of his first Marimba Concerto and a kind of post scriptum to it.
Henrik Vagn Christensen directs with assurance, making clear that the orchestra is a protagonist in the dramas, as well as the Marimba which itself is in the safest of hands in these performances. A terrific SACD sound complements the performances which are topped by a graceful and well-written booklet. Marimba fans; apply within.