Notes and Editorial Reviews
Tumultuous, surprisingly approachable, highly memorable.
Symphony No. 4
Songs and Rhapsodies
Nicholas Wearne (org);
class="ARIAL12">Robert Minczuk, cond;
Frode Andersen (acc);
BRIDGE 9375 (59:48)
This is the seventh issue in Bridge’s series of recordings of the music by the contemporary Danish composer Poul Ruders (b.1949). I reviewed the sixth release in
The previous disc contained a remarkable work for accordion and string quartet from 2004,
Serenade on the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean.
The 12-movement chamber suite called
Songs and Rhapsodies
follows from the earlier work, but here the composer pits the accordion against a wind quintet. Dedicated to the performers above, this substantial piece was premiered as recently as May 2011. For readers put off by the mere word “accordion,” let me stress that Ruders does not use the instrument in a traditional way, nor does he allude to the repertoire of accordion music we know and love (or not). He is out to produce, in his own words, “numerous fascinating and unexpected sonorous encounters” between the solo instrument and the accompanying ensemble, and he succeeds admirably.
In the case of
Songs and Rhapsodies
, part of the fascination lies in the timbral similarities between the accordion and the winds. The former is, in a manner of speaking, a reed instrument. Ruders juxtaposes timbres, letting the soloist imitate the ensemble and vice versa, but also blends solo instrumental colors into the sound of the accordion. His sonic imagination was clearly inspired by this combination.
Structurally, the piece alternates unnamed rhapsodic movements with lyrical songs without words, the latter boasting such titles as “The Desert of Time Revisited,” “A Song within a Dance,” “Shadow Play,” and “Singing into the Distant Haze.” The song movements tend to be slow and lyrically conceived, while the four rhapsodies contain faster music, including plenty of those scurrying scale passages that the composer favors. His ear for harmony, specifically his balance of assonance and dissonance, is as refined as his use of color. Ruders’s music could never be described as lightweight but he frequently employs a light touch—as for instance in the “Song within a Dance,” where a solemn chorale is surrounded by playful
Similar juxtapositions inform the solo organ work
, so named for the “trio” of the organ’s two keyboards plus floor pedals. This lively, virtuoso test piece was written in 2010 on commission from the 2011 Carl Nielsen International Organ Festival.
The organ brings an array of colors to Ruders’s Symphony No. 4 (2008), a major work in the tradition of Jongen’s Symphonie Concertante and Copland’s Organ Symphony. One again, Ruders combines and contrasts the orchestral sonorities with those of the solo instrument to great effect. The symphony is in four traditional movements. The opening slowly unfolds with a series of soft tone clusters in a prelude marked
, then a Cortège follows, also
but with a strong rhythmic basis. Here the expressive marking is
. Jazzy percussion drives the third movement, a typically scurrying etude, and the work concludes with a chaconne in which timbral contrasts and thematic variations are played out. “Play,” with its dual connotations of skill and spontaneity, seems to be the operative word with Ruders. I believe this is the secret to his success and the motivation behind Bridge’s ongoing commitment to his work.
It would be hard to imagine finer performances of these pieces. Both organists are deft and imaginative. The quintet from the Athelas Sinfonietta and accordionist Frode Andersen show complete sympathy with Ruders’s music and great mastery of balance, attack, and color. (Remarkably, Andersen is not the same soloist who recorded the earlier work for accordion and string quartet. Who knew there was a plethora of brilliant young classical accordion players?) Robert Minczuk and the Odense Orchestra play the symphony to the manner born. Perhaps the violins’ figures could have cut through a little more in the
movement, but that is nitpicking. Recording quality is first-rate.
I liked the previous Ruders disc enough to include it in my 2011 Want List, and I enjoy this one even more.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
This is volume 7 of Bridge's laudable series devoted to the 'Music of Poul Ruders'. Volume 6 was released last year. Details of all previous volumes are included in the accompanying booklet.
The CD opens with Ruders' ambitious Fourth Symphony, the obbligato organ part performed by the delightfully-named Flemming Dreisig in the Carl Nielsen Concert Hall in Odense. This unusually 'bottom-heavy' work begins with a gentle, ambiguous first movement, the booklet notes suggesting rather fancifully "a Nordic landscape under brooding storm clouds". The 'Cortège' second movement builds the volume and pace slowly but surely, yet not in any predictable direction - Ruders is rarely predictable! The movement ends suddenly and then bursts back into life with a short but frenetic presto 'Etude', a scherzo of diabolic intensity that examines the whole orchestra. The finale is an epic 'Chaconne', in Ruders' words "no holds barred". Here the Odense Symphony Orchestra is in scintillating form under Roberto Minczuk, who conducted the Dallas Symphony in the work's 2010 premiere performance. But it is Dreisig who really earns his fee in the final tumultuous pages of this surprisingly approachable, highly memorable work, as Ruders lets rip with a saturnalia to blow the church roof off.
Ruders wrote the
Trio Transcendentale - which, if a French title, he or Bridge has given a grammatically wayward feminine -e suffix - as a test piece for organ for the 2011 Carl Nielsen Competition. It begins in jolly mood with what he describes as "popcorn Baroque" but ends up, after a short eerie interlude, in tonal bedlam. Needless to say it really does test the organist's dexterity and pedal power, but for the listener it is a diverting piece to follow the seriousness of the Symphony. The competition section winner was Nicholas Wearne, who performs it here with aplomb.
The final work,
Songs and Rhapsodies, was written for accordionist Frode Andersen, who gave the premiere performance last year, shortly before this recording was made. There are twelve short sections, with movements 2, 4, 6 and 10 labelled 'Rhapsody', the remaining eight variously-titled, but always melodic - the 'Songs', of course. The accordion is accompanied by a wind quintet drawn from the Athelas Sinfonietta playing nine different instruments for maximal utilisation of sonorities, although the work is, for Ruders at least, not especially exploratory. It ends, appropriately, with a 'Swan Song', but the 'Stratospheric Solo' for unaccompanied accordion that directly precedes it may leave the listener feeling temporarily struck down with tinnitus! Ruders writes very imaginatively for the accordion, as his oddly-titled but absorbing
Serenade on the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean on volume 6 has already shown.
Volume 6 was actually marred by the especially poor recording of
Bel Canto, a fact which completely escaped the critical ear of at least one eminent magazine, which completely unjustifiably short-listed it for a contemporary music award. On this disc, in any case, Bridge revert to their usual high standards, although even here there is some minor distortion in the loudest, deepest organ tutti chords in the Symphony. In fairness that kind of thing is a challenge for any sound engineer.
The English-only CD booklet is informative, with intelligent notes in plain language by the ever-dependable Malcolm MacDonald. There are decent biographies and a few black-and-white Seventies-feel photos of the performers with Ruders. On the front cover Ruders once again flouts health and safety regulations by appearing with his trademark pipe in mouth - although it does appear to be unlit.
-- Byzantion, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 4 "An Organ Symphony" by Poul Ruders
Flemming Dreisig (Organ)
Odense Symphony Orchestra
Period: 21st Century
Trio Transcendentale by Poul Ruders
Nicholas Wearne (Organ)
Period: 21st Century
Songs and Rhapsodies by Poul Ruders
Frode Andersen (Accordion)
Athelas Woodwind Quintet
Period: 21st Century
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