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Per NØRGÅRD (b. 1932)
Spell, Trio No. 2 for clarinet, cello and piano (1973) [16:04]
Suite from Babette’s Feast for violin, viola, cello and piano (1987) [21:03]
Trio breve, Three fragments (After a Dream) for violin, cello and piano (2012) [6:03]
Whirl’s World, for wind quintet [16:00]
Ensemble MidtVest
rec. 2018, HEART (Herning Museum of Contemporary Art), Herning, Denmark
DACAPO 8.226136 [59:11]

Although I now have examples of Per Nørgård’s music ranging from symphonic to opera and song, my introduction to his wonderful music was unwitting. I came to admire it through the soundtrack to the film Babette’s Feast without realising who it was by. So, it is all the more pleasing to have this disc with the Suite from the composer’s music for the film included.

The disc opens with his Trio No 2 from 1973, entitled Spell. Here, the composer replaces the usual violin with a clarinet. There are moments when this work could be described as a minimalist piece, with its repeated piano pattern over which the clarinets glissando and the warm cello textures build the intensity of the music, or with his use of the ‘infinity series’ for serializing melody, giving it the feel of a perpetuum mobile piece. This is a very atmospheric work and whilst it is the longest single track on the disc, it is also one I have not tired of listening to.

Babette’s Feast is an award winning 1987 Danish drama film directed by Gabriel Axel. The screenplay is based upon a short story by Isak Dinesen, a pseudonym of Karen Blixen, who is probably best known for Out of Africa. The story revolves around Babette Hersant, a French revolutionary who flees to a small isolated community where she is treated with suspicion. The predominant theme of the film is how food can transform the hearts of people and the atmosphere of a gathering. Per Nørgård composed far more music for the film than was required and Gabriel Axel chose parts of the score to heighten the drama, which it does well. Out of the score Nørgård has chosen eight pieces for violin, viola, cello and piano to produce a highly atmospheric Suite. It works really well as a suite of pieces in its own right, with the different emotions and tension of the story clearly evident without needing to see the pictures.

The latest work on this disc is the Trio Breve, dated from 2012 and receiving here its world premiere recording. The booklet defines it as one of Per Nørgård’s “simplest” compositions while the composer himself described it as “fragments for a mosaic.” Lasting six minutes this is a trio breve indeed, with the first movement taking a mere 46 seconds and here the description “simplest” could be agreed with, as its uncomplicated violin melody never really amounts to much. However, it is in the cello and piano playing underneath that the more complex music is heard. The second movement, the longest of the three, is pure Nørgård. The thematic material from the first movement seems to be adapted here and played under the strings before the music becomes more typical of the composer. Like in the first movement, the music ends abruptly just when you think that it is going to be developed further. The final movement, as the second, seems to build on the theme of the previous movements.

The final work on this disc is the one that gives it its title, Whirl’s World. It was composed in 1970 for wind quintet. This is an astonishing piece that uses the instruments at hand to create a sound worlds apart from what you might expect – tuned car horns, air raid syrens and electronic music among others come to mind. The control of the ensemble, as they blend their instruments to create these sounds, is wonderful with the result being an exhilarating and enjoyable experience.

Throughout this recording the Ensemble MidtVest are excellent. I have come to associate them with more romantic Nordic music but here they show that they are equally adept and at home in the more modern. This is a performance that makes me long to hear more of Per Nørgård’s wonderful music, performed by the same musicians. I hope it is not too long before Dacapo oblige. The performance is backed up by wonderful recorded sound and an equally committed, informative booklet essay, making this a most valuable addition to my collection.

Stuart Sillitoe

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