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RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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Per NØRGÅRD (b. 1932)
The Organ Book [50:43]
Jens E. Christiensen (organ)
rec. Our Saviour’s Church, Copenhagen, 2017 DACAPO SACD 6.220656 [70:54]
Over the years I have come to enjoy the music of the Danish composer Per Nørgård, whatever the genre, be it symphonic, chamber, vocal or solo instrument there is always something to excite and interest, and this disc is no different. The disc offers the listener some of the organ music of Per Nørgård, something that whilst I know some of his piano music, was totally new to me.
At the age of 17 Per Nørgård was sent to study ear-training the organ playing by his teacher, Vagn Holmboe, with this leading to the young composer spending a short time as organist at the Sankt Jakob Church in Copenhagen. This experience certainly influenced his compositional style as he shows a thorough understanding of organ technique and of the register and capabilities of the instrument. This has led to the two very distinct works presented here.
The Organ Book is a collection of 17 Preludes and Choral Fantasias composed over a 59 years period between 1955 and 2014. The pieces could be said to be based on the great northern-European organ tradition; these are church pieces, pieces that are at home in the liturgical setting. The set opens with the Preludio Féstivo of 1956, a fitting opener for the series. It is, though, the Five Organ Chorales Op. 12 (1955), which are the earliest pieces presented here, that really set out Per Nørgård’s credentials as an organist-composer. These are powerful and important works in the Danish organ repertoire. The set concludes with Toccata-‘Libra’ (1973/2013) an exuberant piece to end with.
In contrast to The Organ Book, I feel that Canon (1970-71) is a piece more at home in an organ concert than in a liturgical setting. It is a work cast in seven section, more characteristic of Nørgård’s Uendelighedsrækken or ‘Infinity Series’ style, something that the composer began to employ in his music from the 1960’s. This is a strong work, the one that I find the most interesting, it shows the great potential of the organ; without being reliant on gimmicks, it is virtuosic work and one that left me wishing for more.
Both these works show Per Nørgård’s ability to create differing sound worlds from the organ, with both displaying aspects of brilliance and interest. It helps that they are performed by Jens E. Christiensen, the organist at Our Saviour’s Church and friend of the composer, with some of the pieces being specifically composed for Christiensen and this particular organ. Christiensen is an excellent interpreter of this music, he also co-wrote the excellent booklet notes, with the wonderful recorded sound giving a sense of space and grandeur to the music. A must for all organ enthusiasts, the best disc of organ music of the year.