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Poul RUDERS (b.1949)
Chamber and Piano works - Volume 9
New Rochelle Suite for guitar and percussion (2003/6) [7.05]
Twinkle Bells (Piano Etude No2) (2012) [1.12]
Schrödinger’s Cat for violin and guitar (2012) [15.07]
Romances for viola and piano (2011) [10.33]
13 Postludes for solo piano (1988) [22.14]
David Starobin (guitar); Daniel Druckman (percussion); David Holzman (piano); Amalia Hall (violin); Hsin-Yun Huang (viola); Sarah Rothenberg (piano)
rec. 31 March 2007, Recital Hall, Performing Arts centre, Purchase, NY (Rochelle); 4 June 2013, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City (Twinkle); 25 October 2013, New Rochelle Studios (Cat); 25 October 2011, Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University NJ (Romances); 3 June 2012, Granoff Music, Centre, Tufts University, Medford, USA (Postludes)
BRIDGE 9427 [56.34]

Bridge Records have done sterling work on behalf of Denmark’s leading living composer. He is also a major worldwide figure whose unique soundscape has lasting value. The symphonies and concertos have also been recorded by companies like Danacord and Bis but it’s this Bridge series that seems definitive.

Volume 9 appears at first to be a mopping-up exercise. Truth to tell, there are none of those extraordinary, lengthy and original pieces like ‘Gong’ or ‘The ‘Solar Triptych’ here. Neither are there any of the symphonies. On the other hand there is much here that is of interest.

The disc consists of thirty-seven tracks hence this has proven to be a good demonstration of Ruders the eclectic miniaturist. The New Rochelle Suite for guitar and percussion is witty and fleeting as is the ensuing Twinkle Bells, an untamed piano etude which explores the upper half of the piano in polyrhythms of great intricacy. The Suite delves into Argentinean nightlife, in ‘Thanksgiving’ where the guiro is employed as it also is in the ‘Night Tango’, added in 2006, and the longest movement. ‘Stampede’ uses a triangle and ends with a crack of the whip. ‘Kafka’ is a klezmer-style dance which comes from Ruders' opera ‘Kafka’s’ Trial’.

David Starobin has been an exponent of contemporary guitar music for many years. He has often recorded for Bridge and his second contribution is a work he premiered along with Amalia Hall just two years ago: Schrödinger‘s Cat. The title bears little relationship with this set of eleven canons except, according to the much missed Malcolm MacDonald’s excellent notes, that it demonstrates an entanglement of man and cat be it dead or alive; I leave that issue hanging in the air. The mood of these miniatures swings between manic and quiet and thoughtful and fascinating. The last one of these not especially strict canons, is a diatonic, simple melody taken from, of all things, the composer’s 2008 Concertino for bass trombone and ensemble. It's quite ingenious.

Hsin-Yun Huang and Sarah Rothenberg premiered the six short Romances for viola and piano. Their beautifully refined interpretation is attractively captured here. It is a rather personal addition to the repertoire by Ruders in that it oscillates between sentimentality and aggression. The titles include ‘Dirge’ which is very still and slow and ‘Rhapsody’ and 'Duet' which are lively and even excitable. In a way these Romances inhabit similar ground to the canons but are now given a sense of story-line more in keeping with a nineteenth century tradition. Remember, incidentally, that in Danish the word ‘Roman’ also means novel or story.

Postludes is the longest work and is for solo piano. It’s also the oldest and rather uncompromising. Here again contrasts seem to be all a part of the structure. For example the first two lead into a wild Toccata. The still, central point of the cycle comes with the Lacrimosa (number seven) but that is immediately followed by a frenzied Preambulum. This sets off another sequence mirrored by an almost impressionist Romance, immediately followed by a wild and angry Manége. Emotions now drained, the ensuing Epilogue seems aimless and the longest Postlude ends the cycle with a Feldman-like Requiem, but to what or whom? This is a fine and moving work and, it seems, a significant one for the composer. David Holzman is quite brilliant and captures the differing moods with panache.

The recordings of all the pieces, although made at different times and in different venues, are consistent in volume, balance and focus.

Gary Higginson