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Bent SØRENSEN (b. 1958)
La Mattina for piano and orchestra (2007-0 [21:50]
Serenidad for clarinet and orchestra (2011-2012) [18:26]
Trumpet Concerto for trumpet and orchestra (2012-2013) [15:43]
Leif Ave Andsnes (piano), Martin Fröst (clarinet), Tine Thing Helseth (trumpet), Norwegian Chamber Orchestra / Per Kristian Skalstad
Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Søndergård
rec. live, 10 May 2014, Koncertsalen, DR Koncerthuset, Copenhagen (Serenidad); 2019, Universitetes Aula, Oslo
DACAPO 8.226095 [56:59]

The veteran Danish composer Bent Sørensen has always been attracted to the concerto form. He first drew international attention with his 1993 violin concerto Sterbende Gärten and since then there have been several other concerti. His triple concerto L’isola della Cittâ won the 2016 Grawemeyer Award. Here we have three concertos from the period just before that work.

There are so many similarities among them that I shall start with these. In the first place, the writing for each solo instrument is assured and idiomatic. Sørensen seems thoroughly familiar with the repertoire for each instrument and writes with an awareness of it. The piano writing in La Mattina I found particularly attractive; it reminded me of Tippett’s piano concerto, or even Ravel. It is not obviously virtuosic but lyrical and occasionally polyphonic. There are reminiscences of earlier works: a Busoni transcription of a Bach chorale and also Mozart’s piano concerto in G K.453. Similarly, the writing for solo clarinet seems to owe something to Nielsen, not surprisingly, but less to Mozart, more surprisingly, except in Sørensen’s liking for passages which make great leaps between the low and the high register. The trumpet concerto is avowedly indebted to those by Haydn and Hummel. He makes some use of unconventional techniques; for example, in Serenidad the soloist is at one point required to sing as well as play and in the trumpet concerto the soloist must use a wow-wow mute in one passage and the orchestra at different points is required to rub its hands together or to hum. Sørensen is not very interested in instrumental virtuosity for its own sake and usually avoids writing cadenzas, though there is one in La Mattina.

The orchestral writing is less distinctive but certain features recur: high passages for the violins, glissandi, occasional short bursts of rhythmic energy, dialogues between the soloists and individual members of the orchestra. He is fond of triple time dances and passages of this kind occur in all three works. The orchestral forces he requires in all three of these works are modest: much the same size that Haydn or Mozart would have expected. However, Serenidad here appears in a revised version: the original used some pre-recorded material; in this version, this is replaced by seven clarinettists who take up different positions on the stage and in the audience. This clarinet choir really colours the work.

Considering the works individually, La Mattina is the successor to a much earlier piano concerto, La Notte, which dates from 1998. Between that and this work came the Papillon trilogy of piano concertante works of 2013-4, so Sørensen is thoroughly experienced in writing piano concerti. La Mattina is in five movements which play continuously. The piano-writing I find consistently more interesting than the orchestral part, which is always in the background and has less interesting material. In the clarinet concerto Serenidad, the soloist dominates throughout with some particularly attractive dancing passages in triple time. In the trumpet concerto, much of the writing is surprisingly gentle and lyrical, in fact both the clarinet and the trumpet concerti have a good deal of evocative and romantic writing.

I have the same reservations about all three of these works: to me they seem episodic, with no particular logic linking the sections of each work. So, while they are quite attractive listening, I do not find them finally satisfying. Of course, others may differ.

There is certainly nothing to complain about in the performances. Leif Ove Andsnes and Martin Fröst need no introduction. Tina Thing Helseth was a new name to me; it turns out that she not only enjoys a solo career but also plays jazz and presents radio and television programmes. Two orchestras and conductors are employed. All seem thoroughly committed and the recordings, though made by different teams in different venues, match well. Applause is not included in the live recording of Serenidad. Those who follow Sørensen need not hesitate.

Stephen Barber

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