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Ole BUCK (b. 1945)
Sinfonietta Works
Fiori di ghiaccio for 9 instruments (1999) [13:32]
A Tree for 13 musicians (1996) [14:17]
[Untitled] for 8 instruments (2010) [9:28]
Flower Ornament Music for 17 instruments (2001) [22:03]
Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen/Jesper Nordin
rec. 22, 24, 29-30 August 2015, Rehearsal Hall, Royal Opera House, Copenhagen
DACAPO 8.226589 [59:00]

Danish composer Ole Buck had the late Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (1932-2016) and Per Nørgård (b.1932) as his teachers. His 1968 Summertrio for flute, guitar and cello announced him as an adherent of what one commentator at the time called the 'new simplicity'. Late in the 1980s he moved to the Danish countryside and it is said that this further imparted to his music a "sense of calm". These four single-movement works should help establish a picture of a composer whose name many will barely know.

Fiori di ghiaccio launches with a haunted mille-feuille chiming. The music rocks slowly, has dark undertones and prominent glittering heights. It casts a Klimt-like weightlessness over music that is earthed by a rocking minimalist ostinato. Its piano line provides both a solid bass anchor and the occasional ringing glint. The skein rises at 7:45 to a moment of fanfared urgency but this slides away. The Fiori di ghiaccio was written as a tribute to the Italian composer Niccolò Castiglioni (review review review).

In the case of A Tree the inspiration is "a meditation about the tree as concept and symbol". It's more static than Fiori and adopts slow-cycling patterns. We hear fine striation rather like a concatenation of thinly populated and disentangled strands from the Silvestrov Fifth Symphony. At one point the music melts into dissonance but easily assimilable dissonance. The piano intervenes from time to time as a chiming and companionable harmonic partner. There are some strange oriental effects as well. The ostinati, familiar from Fiori, put in a further appearance in Sibelian garb. The effect is very beautiful and the beauty is in the ostinato itself rather than any superimposed descant. The Sibelius influence asserts itself afresh at 10:01 in a glorious woodwind shudder. Finally the music marches distantly off and shivers away on a ringing bell.

After two lambent ostinato-dominated scores of the 1990s we move to two avant-garde pieces that lack a sweet melodic pulse. The first is the shortest. It is untitled and is laid out for eight instruments. We seem to enter a room with aggressive pepper grains floating in the air. A scratchy attack by the strings meets Stravinskian figuration and shrieks (00.55). The imagery is sinister: a malignant train out of a Tim Burton film with a malformed whistle announcing its path. Pendereckian sighs and downcast whistles punctuated the progress.

Flower Ornament Music for 17 instruments is the longest piece here. Desolate forsaken flute sounds open the score in slightly oriental terms. Gong strokes add to the flavour with the music seeming to have been influenced by Hovhaness and Lou Harrison (review review). Those pulsing ostinati return (try 8.18) with their repetitive cell units. At 17:59 there's birdsong chatter above iterated cells. These moments can sound similar to Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus. Towards the end there's an insistent thunder and sounds that recall, in all-conquering confidence, the multiple marimbas in Reich's Desert Music.

The present Buck collection is the second from Dacapo. The first, from twenty years ago, comprised substantial chamber ensemble pieces (8.224034). That four seasons sequence was written during 1992-96, entitled Landscapes. Together those four pieces play for approaching eighty minutes. The performances were by the Danish Chamber Players conducted by Svend Aaquist.

The liner-notes for the present disc are by Jesper Lützhøft, artistic director of Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen.

Buck's music is well worth running to ground. His minimalism differs from that of the major American practitioners but its shimmer and glow should quickly win it new friends even if there is some pepper in the mix.

Rob Barnett



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