Archive for the “DaCapo” Category

Per Nørgård 

Symphonies 3 and 7

Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Danish National Choir

Thomas Dausgaard, conductor

DaCapo Records

DaCapo has released a new recording of Per Nørgård’s Symphony #3, a masterpiece of color and structure to say the least.  The only other recording of this work that I have ever encountered (and perhaps the only other recording) is the Chandos release paired with Nørgård’s piano concerto.  The Chandos recording has served me well over the years and was a major contributor to me becoming a fan of Nørgård’s music.  This new recording, however, is sonically superior in almost every respect.  The sounds are sharper, crisper, and more detailed.

From the opening piano notes, through the glistening high-pitch descending lines, to the rich full brass and vibrant flexatone in the first three minutes, I felt like I was hearing this work for the first time again.  The sonic clarity and crispness of the performance is perfectly stunning.  The orchestra and voices perform with an infectious sense of joy and tranquility.  I can’t listen to the piece without my stomach fluttering.

There are moments in the piece that I think are best left to recording, dare I say, instead of a live performance.  This symphony is a work in which anything can and will happen.  The organ’s entrance is a moment of musical perfection, especially when you don’t know it is going to happen (sorry to spoil the surprise).  The same goes for the choir’s entrance 10 minutes into the second movement.  You didn’t know that you wanted to hear voices until they emerge.  Ulla Munch’s solo is buttery and lovely.

The disc also presents the world premiere recording of Nørgård’s Symphony #7.  This composition is an excellent pairing to Nørgård’s Symphony #3 as there are many similar sonic elements but the overall tone is much darker with more drive.  Instead of languishing in transcendant lush harmonies and colors from the symphony from the 70s, Nørgård’s most recent symphony (completed 2006) is full of agitation and motoric contraptions.  The first movement’s molto agitato looses its steam for just a moment in the middle before winding back up again.  Simple melodic paths and sprawling chords form the second movement but still placed together in a disquieted way.  The ending movement is a jagged and dance-like romp that sounds like it could serve as a contemporary Petrouchka ballet.  The same high-quality recording and performance holds true in this symphony.  You hear everything that happens and everyone is performing on their highest level.

Per Nørgård

String Quartets 7, 8, 9, 10

The Kroger Quartet

DaCapo Records

The same coloristic worlds that are explored in Nørgård’s symphonies are still at work in the more intimate genre of the string quartet and the Kroger Quartet sounds to be the perfect vessel for these four works.  Each of the quartets on this recording were written in collaboration with the Kroger Quartet and these later quartets span the early 90s to the mid 2000s (Quartet 10 is from 2005).

Quartet 7 is a very extroverted display of Nørgård’s colorful style in an approachable harmonic and gestural language.  Quartet 8, subtitled Night Descending Like Smoke, spans 5 short movements and captures moods and materials from Nørgård’s chamber opera Nuit des Hommes. The Kroger quartet nails the tense sound, terse language, and microtonality.  This quartet is my personal favorite on the disc, even though all four quartets are given rich and nuanced performances and once again display DaCapo’s knack for a transparent capturing of sound.

Quartet 9, Into the Source, tracks the notion of moving against the flow of things.  The gestures are energetic and driving throughout, even in the calmer second movement.  There is a sense of disquiet that I find foreshadows much of what I hear in the depths of Nørgård’s Symphony #7.

Quartet 10, Harvest Timeless, is the only quartet in a single movement and the long lyrical line that laces the whole movement together feels deeply personal.  This might sound strange, but I feel like this quartet is like eavesdropping.  I hear the joy and serenity from Nørgård’s Symphony #3 doing battle with the darker tone of Symphony #7 throughout this quartet.  Throughout it all, The Kroger Quartet has chameleon-like powers of color shifting and timbral transformation.  If you are into Nørgård in any capacity, neither of these discs should escape your ears.

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Nova Genitura
Seadrift (after Walt Whitman)
Fons Laetitiae
Bente Vist (soprano); Thomas Sondergí¥rd, Casper Schreiber, conductors


This was my first acquaintance with Danish composer Per Nǿrgård (b. Copenhagen, 1932), and I had no preconceptions. All three works are song settings to poetic texts, so I have no idea if his preoccupation with the organic applies equally to his more formal works, his sonatas, quartets and symphonies, though I should not be surprised if it did. In Nǿrgård’s music, seeds of rhythmic and melodic motifs are continually being developed and transformed. “Fractal” is a term sometimes applied to the way in which Nǿrgård develops fast melodies from related slower ones. Add an interest in major harmonics and minor subharmonics, plus a fascination with musical proportions based on the Golden Section or on Fibonacci numbers (1-1-2-3-5-8-13-21-34, etc.) and we have an impression of the composer’s technique in the mid-1970s, when he composed the three works on this program. “I stand with one foot in western rationalism,” Nǿrgård has said, “and the other in eastern mysticism, yet I feel both are alien to me. I am, so to speak, a kind of third point in the picture.”

Nova Genitura (of new birth) and Fons Laetitiae (Fountain of Joy) are both settings of Marian hymns, and as such the emphasis is on rhapsodic expressions of joyful feelings. Seadrift is a setting of two Walt Whitman poems based on the poet’s observations of a pair of seagulls on a rocky desolate beach. The first, “Being Together,” describes the joy of their “marital” bliss, the second, “Torn Apart,” the pain the male bird suffers when he is abandoned by his mate. With the Exception of Fons Laetitiae, where the solo voice is accompanied only by the harp, the other song settings are supported by a “Pierrot” ensemble consisting of violin, cello, harp, Baroque guitar, lute, recorders, crumhorn, harpsichord, percussion, and crotales (miniature finger-tip cymbals). They are used sparingly for best effect, so that the emphasis is always on the soprano voice.

Nǿrgård calls for the singer to cultivate a highly expressive, mystical quality. Because of the fractal manner in which he develops his vocal material, it is not entirely correct to refer to “melody” in any conventional sense of the word. Tones, taken ever higher and distended in the process, take the place of the normal tone progressions we usually think of as constituting a melody. Even prior familiarity with Whitman’s poetry, and with the poems readily available in the booklet, I experienced difficulty following Nǿrgård’s unique equation of sound-and-sense, and continually found myself at a loss as to just where I was in a given text.

It may take some familiarity for the listener to feel comfortable (which I confess, I do not) with this sort of music. It also requires just the right sort of vocalist. Bente Vist is ideally suited to Nǿrgård’s needs. Her extraordinary voice seems to dwell forever on the very uppermost limit of the normal soprano’s tessitura. It has a luminous quality, incredible lightness, particularly in the head tones, and a seamless ability to follow the composer’s organic tonal transformations. I only hope the dear lady does not burn out her vocal cords singing much more of this sort of thing. (Oh, by the way, Nǿrgård’s use of the crumhorn at the moment in “Torn Apart” when Whitman’s avian hero realizes his desolate state, helped crystallize for me something I had previously never found the words to describe, namely the unique tone quality of that Medieval instrument. It sounds like a strangled seagull.)


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A Fall from the Perfect GroundA Fall from the Perfect Ground

Ensemble Alternance

DaCapo Records

A Fall from the Perfect Ground, Christian Winther Christensen
Deux Sonnets de Borges, Niels Rosing-Schow
Mirages, Morten Olsen
Moonlit, Klaus Ib Jí¸rgensen
Prelude – Voyage – Jotunheim, Ivar Frounberg
Ensemble Alternance

On “A Fall from the Perfect Ground,” Ensemble Alternance serves up a wealth of the most coloristic and stunningly beautiful music I’ve heard in a while. Each work, a creation of a contemporary Danish composer, is meticulous in its use of color and timbre and my ear was inexorably led from one moment to the next. This is a great disc.

The first work also provides the title of the CD, a four movement piece by Christian Winther Christensen. This is, for all of its energy and color, a very fragile work. Complex rhythms, shapes, and a richly atonal pitch palette propel the ensemble and the listener alike. Niels Rosing-Schow’s Deux Sonnets de Borges is much more subdued and directly dramatic. Helene Gjerris projects a rich and heavy mezzo-soprano sound over the ensemble and you can feel the weight of poetry in her every utterance.

The CD might be titled after Christensen’s composition, but in my opinion Morten Olsen’s Mirages owns the disc. The music starts in a fragile way, similar to the Christensen but not quite as detailed. All but one of the seven movements are marked “calmo e un poco rassegnato” or just “calmo” (calm a resigned). The movements start calmly, and a little resigned, but they sure don’t stay that way. In the third and fifth movements, calmness is hard to find. The music erupts in bold gestures alongside rich and dark punctuations.

Moonlit by Klaus Ib Jí¸rgensen brings another voice to the party. Marie Kobayashi functions as the dramatic focus, as mezzo-sopranos are wont to do. She commands this piece and drives each gesture and statement in the ensemble. She doesn’t just sing with the ensemble, she IS the ensemble. The instruments ebb and flow around her voice and meld perfectly with her vocal gestures and melodic lines.

Ivar Frounberg’s Prelude – Voyage – Jotunheim is an excellent summary of the whole disc. The music is sharp, brightly colored, and full of seething energy and razor-sharp precision in the ensemble. The intensity of sound and color in Frounberg’s work is visceral and compelling. All of the music on this disc has an edge to it, there is little lush comfort here, but I don’t want lush comfort. Each composer puts Ensemble Alternance out on a taught tightrope and they gracefully sprint over the distance to the other side. My ear was constantly being led in colorful directions and I didn’t want the music to stop.

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Sunleif RasmussenSunleif Rasmussen

String Against String

Da Capo Records

String Quartet No. 1, String Quartet No. 2 “Sunshine and Shadows,” Grave in Memorium Karsten Hoydal, Violin Concerto No. 1 “Songs of Seasons,” Echoes of the Past
Performed by The Sjaelland String Quartet, John Storgí¥rds, Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, and Juha Kangas

The string music by Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen has a wonderful shimmer, effective use of timbres, and a silky but tense form that holds each piece together. The two string quartets, effectively performed by the Sjaelland String Quartet, are both mature and stunning compositions. The second quartet’s picturesque title apty describes the overall feeling of light and dark colors and harmonies.

The two violin features, the Violin Concerto No. 1 and the solo violin piece Echoes of the Past sound thematically and emotionally linked even though the concerto was composed almost a decade later. Rasmussen’s string writing is vibrant and idiomatic, propelling each piece through delightful soundscapes. Grave for clarinet, strings, and percussion, is an ominous and sombre work but still as richly colored as anything else on this recording.

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8-226514.jpgBRí˜DSGAARD: in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni. Rolf Hind, piano; Esbjerg Ensemble/Christopher Austin. Dacapo 226514. 62 minutes.

Anders Brí¸dsgaard’s in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (“we enter the circle at night and are consumed by fire”) is a cycle of seven solo piano pieces and a piano concerto written between 1990 and 1995. The pieces were composed using the composer’s own personal “system” that derives rhythmic relationships from the frequency ratios of the harmonic series.

That’s not as schematic as it might sound. Given that some of the frequency ratios at the lower end of the harmonic series are very simple (the perfect fifth is 3:2 for example) and easily translated into cross-pulses, the music itself is often effervescent and quite accessible. The more ratios used the denser and more complex the harmony.

Brí¸dsgaard operates with a great deal of flexibility, layering intervals and their associated pulses according to immediate expressive needs. The first piece in the cycle, Joker (1990), is a rhythmically alive, harmonically static machine ride. Other pieces are more contemplative, like Requiem (1992) and Hymn (1994).The concluding Piano Concerto (1994-95) includes material from each of the preceding seven pieces of the cycle, and was written, in part, as an experiment to see if the procedures could work on a larger scale, which it does in this piece.

Rolf Hind gives passionate performances of all the pieces, and the Esbjerg Ensemble, led by Christopher Austin, provides skillful and sympathetic accompaniment. Dacapo’s sound feels a little small, without the detail we’ve come to expect from digital recordings of piano music. But that shouldn’t discourage anyone otherwise interested in this colorful music.


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Svend Nielsen


DaCapo Records

Ars Nova Copenhagen, Tamí¡s Vetō director. Text by Inger Christensen

This requiem in two parts is a complete setting of Inger Christensen’s Sommerfugledalen or Butterfly Valley for twelve voices. Svend Nielsen commands an excellent lyric style and mixes in intriguing vocal effects for an engaging and captivating 45 minutes of music.

The opening triad arpeggiation quickly dissolves away into fresh diatonic and chromatic textures. Cadences on major chords happen at wondrous times. Non-singing vocal effects are used sparingly and are always an integral part of the musical fabric instead of being thrown around willy-nilly. Each of the fifteen movements floats gracefully and elegantly in space and time and maintains a small dramatic scope. A few gestures build to intense moments but these moments are never sustained for long. They drift away on the wind like butterflies. How apt.

The final track on the disc is the poet reading the text used for this piece. While I do not understand the Danish language, hearing the poet speak her own works proved to further elucidate the choral writing. Mr. Nielsen’s pitch language is rather slippery and mercurial. Hearing the natural glissandi and inflections of the language when plainly spoken reinforces the masterful text setting by the composer.

Ars Nova Copenhagen is one of those great groups that specializes in early music and contemporary music. Their performance is exquisite. They glide along with great ease while navigating some rather difficult passages. They truly sing with a single voice and have a great dramatic focus to their sound.

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8_226046.jpgNí˜RGí…RD: The Will-o’-the-Wisps Go to Town; Sí˜RENSEN: The Little Mermaid. Jens Albinus, vocal; Inger Dam-Jensen, Helene Gjerris, soprano; Gert Henning-Jensen, Bo Kristian Jensen, tenor; Ylva Kihlberg, mezzo-soprano; Danish National Girls’ Choir, Sun & Moon, Ars Nova Copenhagen/Thomas Dausgaard. Dacapo 8.226046 67 minutes

Music for children. Music written for children to play must be relatively simple, from a technical point of view, and tends to be didactic and functional. But music written for children to experience is a different beast altogether, and offers composers great opportunities for freedom and experimentation.

Danish composers Per Ní¸rgí¥rd (b. 1932) and Bent Sí¸rensen (b. 1958) take full advantage of the opportunity in their settings of stories by Hans Christian Andersen. Both pieces, Ní¸rgí¥rd’s The Will-o’-the-Wisps Go to Town and Sí¸rensen’s The Little Mermaid, are exuberant exercises in polystylism, with techniques and effects drawn from every school of modern and postmodern composition in existence.

These are delightful works, well-written and extremely well played by the large force under the direction of Thomas Dausgaard. My only reservation (and it’s more of a caution than a musical reservation) is that long stretches of the Ní¸rgí¥rd consist of narration in Danish.

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B000F6YWR6-01-_AA240_SCLZZZZZZZ_V54317174_.jpeHAMERIK: Choral-Symphony 7; Requiem. Randi Stene, mezzo-soprano; Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir/Thomas Dausgaard. Dacapo 8.226033 79 minutes

It is normally a fool’s errand to analyze the work of an artist through his biography. Or worse, it’s shallow. But it the case of Danish composer Asger Hamerik (1843-1923) the facts that he studied with Berlioz, was a contemporary of Gustav Mahler, and lived in the United States for much of his career illuminate a great deal about his music.

At least the two pieces on this disc. The Choral-Symphony (his Seventh, Op. 40, 1906) has much in common with Mahler’s symphonies besides the use of a chorus. The composer’s text concerns life, death, and resurrection. Hamerik composes melodies with a folk quality to them in addition to melodies with a more “classical” sound. Many of them have a distinctly American sound. The work is cyclical, with the slow theme that opens the symphony appearing near the end in a new guise. Also like many of Mahler’s symphonies, the Choral-Symphony is not in four movements (it’s in three) and has a “progressive” tonality; it begins in d minor and ends triumphantly in C Major.

Hamerik’s music is not an echo of Mahler’s, however. His harmony is fresh, personal, and convincing. His study under Berlioz left him with a rhythmic style more French than German, and his use of syncopation is distinctive. His mastery of tonal architecture is thorough, and his climaxes are satisfying. This symphony is well worth hearing and performing.

Hamerik’s Requiem (1886-87) is in the tradition of his teacher’s. It is dramatic and symphonic. Like the Symphony, it’s theme’s are clearly constructed, memorable, and often folk-influenced. There is a striking fanfaree motive that recurs throughout the “Dies Irae” and in the “Sanctus” that holds the piece together. Like Berlioz’ and Mozart’s Requiem masses, the opening music returns at the end with the repetition of the text. It works beautifully here as an organic part of Hamerik’s style.

The performances are very good indeed, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir, under Thomas Dausgaard perform with passion and commitment. Mezzo Randi Stene solos in both pieces and has a clear, warm voice. Dacapo’s sound is quite good; everything sounds clear and with a natural presence.

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