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Andrea Tarrodi (b. 1981)
Four Elements
Fanfare (2020)
Choryn – Harp Concerto (2020)
Tarot Garden (2020)
Symphony in Fire, Water, Earth and Air (2021)
Delphine Constantin-Reznik (harp)
Nordic Chamber Orchestra/Patrik Ringborg, JoAnn Falletta
Nordic Chamber Ensemble
rec. 2021, Tonhallen, Sundsvall, Sweden

Writing as I am exactly one week prior to the Last Night of 2022’s BBC Proms, in common with many readers of these pages (I imagine) I vividly recall the strangeness of the pandemic Last Night two years ago; the wearisome, politically manufactured ‘culture war’ reactions to those offering a timely and grown-up critique of the words of Rule Britannia, the subsequent alarming death threats to the Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska and her family, the forced jollity of the BBC presenters and their guests, the disjointed camera work cutting between one Zoom feed and another. In fact I had only tuned in to hear Solus, a brief orchestral piece commissioned from the Swedish composer Andrea Tarrodi. To my ears the piece captured the zeitgeist and reality of the moment far more eloquently than any of the surrounding noise. An uncharacteristically anxious and rather dark reflection of pandemic and lockdown, it was magnificently orchestrated and startling in its impact. That this was the case was unsurprising to me; Tarrodi has been reliably producing work of this quality for well over a decade by now, and we should feel very glad that much of it has already been recorded by the ever-enterprising Swedish label dB Productions and released commercially at reassuringly regular intervals. Quite apart from the clarity of Tarrodi’s orchestration, her happy knack of finding the ideal colour and timbre, her penchant for producing strange yet memorable melody and imaginative harmony for each of her pieces, the quality that has impressed me most is the authenticity and integrity of everything she seems to touch. She seems incapable of flashiness or cheap effects – her music exudes honesty and effortlessly creates feelings and associations for the listener (this one at least).

The present album includes four examples for large chamber orchestra or ensemble. The opening 77 second Fanfare does no more or less than its title suggests; it’s lean, compelling and forceful, incorporating propulsive strings and canonic brass. It’s wonderfully succinct and serves its purpose admirably. There are mild hints of some better known fanfares from a century ago; perhaps Tarrodi’s piece, despite emerging from Stockholm subconsciously channels the Sokol gymnasium drills that inspired Janäcek’s Sinfonietta.

In the composer’s booklet note, we are informed that having already commenced work on a harp concerto, an aesthetic ‘nudge’ was provided by a synesthetic episode Tarrodi experienced whilst reading a section of Kerstin Ekman’s novel En stad av ljus (A City of Light) during which the main character’s inability to sleep causes them to enter an alternative universe in a hypnogogic state. Whilst this extra-sensory contagion informs the concerto’s subtitle, Choryn, the name Ekman gave to this imaginary place, it also clearly stimulates the mellifluous, cyclical soundworld Tarrodi has designed. This is a hyperethereal piece, whose shimmering opening (harp, stroked cymbals and stratospheric string clouds) yields to a sequence of chords in the harp upon which the entirety of the piece is based. This recurrent motif provides a semi-conscious element of familiarity and recognition, of the type which enables most humans to make some interpretative sense of their own dream states. Whilst the concerto is in the main gentle and mysterious in mood, there is some intermittent turbulence – a rapid episode after about five minutes culminates in a powerful statement of the harp chords on brass – this recurs a couple of times. As ever Tarrodi develops her materials with complete mastery. The surfaces throughout the piece are in constant flux, creating similar effects to those produced when the tiniest change in cloud formation has a pronounced effect upon the daylight. The mystery of this outstanding piece is in the simultaneous simplicity of its melodic content and the subtly complex metamorphoses its arc undergoes. It drifts uncertainly towards a perfect conclusion and the concerto’s opening gesture, the point at which the apparition began. I would imagine the experienced soloist Delphine Constantin-Reznik saw Choryn as an absolute gift; she bestows oodles of interpretative flair upon the work throughout her spellbinding account. For me it inhabits a similar terrain to Philippe Hersant’s magnificent harp concerto Le Tombeau de Vergile (2006) which incomprehensibly remains unrecorded. Of course there are likely to be several recent concertante harp works out there which one has yet to hear, but Choryn is without question only the second masterpiece in this form I have encountered to have been written during this century.

Tarot Garden was composed for a smaller ensemble drawn from members of the Nordic Chamber Orchestra, and is scored for quintets of winds and strings plus piano. Tarrodi’s extra-musical inspiration here is sculpture, specifically a sequence of 22 objects to be found in Niki de Saint Phalle’s sculpture garden in Tuscany. These are the central figures in the Tarot pack, and textural, harmonic or melodic aspects of each tiny successive portrait seamlessly overlap into the next to produce a coherent and attractive work, as the composer leads the listener on a deceptively languorous quarter-hour promenade. The translusence of her scoring seems equally pronounced and arguably more refined in the context of a chamber ensemble. The unconducted Nordic group tiptoe around this atmospheric score with precision and no little wit.

Tarrodi’s recent Symphony in Fire, Water, Earth and Air concludes the disc, another pandemic opus which nonetheless proved cathartic in its creation for the composer. She confides in the booklet note that she found the period to be extremely challenging on a personal level and at first really struggled to find her way in the opening movement. Eventually the clouds began to clear and the rest of the symphony flowed more swiftly from her pen. Not that listeners would have guessed there was any kind of problem; like all the twenty odd pieces I’ve heard by this terrific composer the symphony proceeds with uncanny fluency and a genuine sense of inevitability. The rumbling percussion and low string tremolandi at the outset of Fire yield to gaunt, ominous brass chords and a rather threatening emergent tread in the percussion, a device which seems all the more violent on its reappearance. It’s a thrilling opening gambit; decisively Nordic in its mood and performed with tangible relish by the Nordic Chamber Orchestra which here sounds much greater in size than the 35 player group mentioned in the booklet. Fire elides coolly into the Water movement. Little spiralling arabesques in woodwind coalesce with tentative melodic threads in muted brass, against a restrained background of eddying strings. These elements swirl around alternately blending and contrasting with each other. The effect is simultaneously spellbinding and uneasy. During the panel’s closing moments seabird cries can be detected above colliding waves of string sound. These oscillations are subsequently pitted against the terranean belches and thuds which herald the Earth section. The cascades of ascending and exponentially increasing string melody project a flavour of late Sibelius, his incidental music for The Tempest or the sixth symphony perhaps. A stroke on the tam-tam signals a brief hiatus and the seabirds return, against strings which are by now more richly harmonised. A gradual climax is reached, a semi-silence which duly becomes Air. The weary tread of a haunting woodwind melody splinters rather dejectedly into myriad directions, whilst shimmering, frosty percussion creates the effect of a disappearing past and instigates a complex, moving chorale; this reaches a brief climax before a solo violin imparts an uncertain melody against an unsettling sea breeze. This conclusion struck me as disconcerting, profound and starkly beautiful.

Over the last couple of years I have got to know Andrea Tarrodi’s remarkable music in some depth. She is among a handful of contemporary composers to speak with unfailing directness. She strives for lasting beauty in each successive piece and her pieces seem to throw up more surprises with every listen. Her handling of orchestral sound is exquisite and utterly devoid of gimmickry. Each gesture and phrase seems to be there for a reason. Tarrodi’s music is always going somewhere so there’s absolutely no need for unnecessary embellishment. I really have no idea how she manages it so consistently.

The sage folk at dB Productions are to be congratulated for making so much of her output available in high quality performances and sound. Discs already available include Tarrrodi’s first three string quartets in impeccable accounts from the Dahlqvist Quartet (dBCD180 - review), Ann-Sofi Klingsberg’s sparkling recital of piano pieces along with works by her compatriot Ylva Skog on dBCD190, and ‘Highland’, an unmissable collection of six terrific orchestral works (including the cello concerto which lends its name to the album) performed by the Västerås Sinfonietta on dBCD166. During the last twelve months an album entitled ‘Nightingale’ has also emerged, a celebration of the great Swedish singer Jenny Lind. It concludes with Tarrodi’s Hans Christian Andersen inspired orchestral piece also entitled ‘The Nightingale’ (dBCD196 - review). This work is incredibly touching and worth the price of the disc alone.

Returning to the disc under consideration here, the Nordic Chamber Orchestra, expertly conducted by Patrik Ringborg and Naxos regular JoAnn Falletta perform throughout with vigour, tact and palpable empathy for the composer, and benefit from dB’s detailed yet warm sonics. All the parties involved clearly adore Andrea Tarrodi’s music. So do I.

Richard Hanlon

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