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Ståle KLEIBERG (b. 1958)
Mezzotints
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. 2015, Sofienberg Church, Norway
2L 2L-115-SABD BD-A/SACD [70:18]

Set against, or rather in contrast to the chamber music of a wave of 20th century renewal that included Bartók and Elliott Carter, Ståle Kleiberg’s work is described as ‘postmodern’ in the booklet notes to this release. Harking back to the profile of chamber music in the 19th century, “Kleiberg essays another kind of renewal, one designed to recapture something of the ethos of [this] private sphere.” Arguments can be made for and against this point of view to varying degrees, and Kleiberg by no means seeks to abandon the public concert platform for his chamber music. Postmodern or neo-Romantic, his well-crafted works have an appeal that allows for enjoyment by a more relaxed audience, exploring expression through traditional convention rather than avant-garde experiment.

The Second String Quartet has an air of melancholy about it, though with soaring, eloquent and rhythmically dynamic moments and movements this might as easily be heard as something with ecstatic qualities. The opening is certainly darker in mood, with a serious Adagio that builds from a brooding atmosphere to one of quite dramatic intensity. Dissonant stresses add to the impact of this effect, but these grow out of harmonic content that has its own modes of resolution, delivered with a lighter touch in the following Allegro. Kleiberg likes to expand his tonalities with moments of luminous texture, and there is never anything dull here. The final Adagio, rubato opens beautifully, the move towards a more animated true finale leaving us uplifted as well as ‘sadder and wiser.’

Ruf und Nachklang for piano solo is in two movements, the first of which takes its energy from a kind of opening call sign that re-emerges in different forms, while a backdrop of nocturnal but searchingly restless chords takes on a contrasting, more distant perspective. These elements are transformed into more rhapsodic material that proves to have its own nocturnal character when quietened. The second movement is related to the first but develops the hints of jazz in the first into something quite rich and improvisatory.

Ashes for solo violin was written for Henning Kraggerud, its title referring to a painting by Edvard Munch, the two figures in which representing “introverted feelings of resignation and melancholy.” There is a virtuoso element in this piece that will have been appealing to its dedicatee, as are the folk-music double-stops and world of expressive depth packed into an extremely compact form. The Piano Trio No. 2 is also a single movement, this time of a more complex and extended type. It opens with effusive and dramatic outpourings that become focussed into quieter territory but without losing much by way of intensity, the piano refusing the music permission to lie down and rest for long. Melodic counterpoint and discourse give the piece an inward-looking feel at times, but such passages are fragile and easily broken by returns of aspects from that explosive opening. One striking moment has the violin and cello in octaves in a yearning melody under and over which the piano weaves exotic patterns; a set of resonances that recall Messiaen but very much in the Kleiberg idiom.

The Sonata for Violin and Cello is in three fairly compact but highly eventful movements. The first of these has an almost continuous counterpoint between the two instruments, ever moving towards a climactic unison and dispersal of energy. The opening of the second movement is given an eerie effect through harmonics on the cello. This soon gives way to further ‘dissonant counterpoint’, which indicates an independence of melody that gives an unexpected quality to those inevitable moments of unity all the more. The final Allegro is “a high-energy, unremitting drive to the finish” with accented rhythms that demand virtuoso ensemble work.

Sonanza e cadenza for violin and piano has an improvisatory feel, both in the material written and in the way the instruments interact: calling and responding, and with listening spaces along with passages of dramatic unity and virtuoso solo expansion. The booklet alludes to a “deliberate evocation of the familiar classical-romantic gestures” associated with the improvisatory cadenza genre, and while this is by no means a work from which passages could be extracted and applied to random concertos, it certainly feels as if there are one or two concertos that could emerge to accommodate them.

Recorded with Morten Lindberg’s usual refinement in excellent SACD sound, and with a Blu-ray disc added for those with up-to-date technology, this is another very fine addition to Ståle Kleiberg’s recorded catalogue.

Dominy Clements

Previous review: Brian Reinhart



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