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Ståle KLEIBERG (b. 1958)
String Quartet No. 2 [16:05]
Ruf und Nachklang [14:44]
Ashes, for solo violin [3:41]
Piano Trio No. 2 [14:19]
Sonata for Violin and Cello [11:47]
Sonanza e cadenza [9:47]
Marianne Thorsen, violin; Øyvind Gimse, cello; Bård Monsen, violin; Ole Wuttudal, viola; Jørgen Larsen, piano
rec. February 2015, Sofienberg Church, Norway
2L 2L-115-SABD BD-A/SACD [70:19]

Ståle Kleiberg is a contemporary Norwegian composer who should command major international attention. His sound-world is conventionally tonal, influenced perhaps by Barber and Debussy, and also (according to the very pretentiously written booklet essay) Berg and Bartók. The booklet describes an emotionally reticent composer, whose chamber music is private and whose meanings are hidden. That may be so, but in Kleiberg’s sense of harmony I also sense a physical openness: the outdoors, or even an open window with cool air coming in under the sash. I found a lot to enjoy here, and will be exploring more of this composer’s music.

The String Quartet No. 2 (2012) is two slow movements with a faster one in the center; the first movement has an insistence and tension which suggest that it is building up to some heart-rending climax, which, however, never arrives. The finale, by contrast, is a leave-taking, in which the first violinist has a prominent, almost concertante role.

Piano Trio No. 2 (2002) demonstrates Kleiberg’s typical knack for dramatic, memorable opening gestures, this time string instruments plunging downward over repeated high piano chords. This idea is developed and contemplated in various ways; the instruments change roles, and sometimes the downward figure turns upside-down, ascending into a major key. In lyrical central passages, I am reminded of how little Kleiberg’s sound-world fits our stereotypes about “Nordic” composers; instead, it seems indebted to Americans most of all, and in this piece, there is even a bittersweet hint of Brahms or Fauré. These comparisons are merely to help the reader judge whether (s)he wants to hear the disc: Kleiberg’s voice is very much his own, and not derivative or imitative.

The Sonata for Violin and Cello (2001) starts out calm, almost prosaic, but builds to dramatic things, and here I am reminded of Martinů. After a big first-movement climax, the cello is briefly allowed an impassioned solo. The finale is especially passionate. It strikes me, here, that none of the music on this album is necessarily “happy”. And Sonanza e cadenza (1998) confirms that pattern. I’m not sure what “sonanza” means, but the piece opens with alternating solos for violin and piano, advancing their own variations on a theme; eventually the violinist rounds things out with the promised cadenza.

The album has two solo pieces in addition to the chamber music. Ruf und Nachklang (Call and Echo, 2013) starts with a declaratory, somewhat dissonant statement by the pianist, then develops that idea in softer, subtler ways. The adagio finale is touching; I think of the pulse of Ravel, the harmonies of Barber or Griffes. Ashes (2010) is a very short work for solo violin, highly melodic and full of double-stopping and other virtuoso effects. It seems to end arbitrarily, on a few pizzicato notes, as if the soloist has grown tired.

2L’s notes make us understand that the composer and performers worked closely together, and we can assume that the excellent performances here, by some of Norway’s leading soloists and chamber players, represent Kleiberg’s ideal or something very close to it. Surely Kleiberg will be flattered by the overall production from the 2L label: the set comprises a hybrid SACD and a Blu-Ray audio disc, and the booklet essayist places him directly in a line stretching back to Haydn.

This is excellent music, and especially for those who are “afraid” of contemporary music, a fascinating prospect. I will seek out 2L’s other recordings of Kleiberg immediately.

Brian Reinhart



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