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Momentum - Nordic Cello Concertos

Norgard / Kullberg / New Music Orch / Bywalec
Release Date: 09/25/2012 
Label:  Norway Music   Catalog #: 5075   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Arne NordheimKaija SaariahoPer Norgård
Performer:  Jakob Kullberg
Conductor:  Szymon Bywalec
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 6 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

NØRGÅRD Momentum. 1 Solo Intimo. 2 Turn 3 1,2 Jakob Kullberg (vc); 1 Szymon Bywalec, cond; 1 New Music O; 3 Per Nørgård (pn) AURORA ACDLP5075 (LP: 41:24)
NØRGÅRD Momentum. NORDHEIM Tenebrae. SAARIAHO Amers Jakob Kullberg (vc); Szymon Bywalec, cond; New Music O AURORA ACD5075 (68: 18)

The Norwegian label Aurora has simultaneously issued an LP and a CD of Per Nørgård’s Second Cello Concerto, which goes under the moniker Momentum . This is its first recording. Perhaps confusingly, the LP and the CD have different couplings. The second side of the LP contains two solo works, also by Nørgård, who is Danish. The CD includes two other Nordic cello concertos, by Arne Nordheim (a Norwegian) and Kaija Saariaho (a Finn). I guess Aurora is hoping that you will buy both. The label has added a little incentive to purchasing the LP: It appears to be a limited edition of 300 copies. The LP, on heavy vinyl, is of excellent quality; only a little pre-echo detracts from the listening experience.

Momentum was composed in 2009 for cellist Jakob Kullberg, who premiered it that year with the New Music Orchestra. This recording dates from 2009 as well, but it appears not to be a concert recording. Nørgård’s music, in my experience, and this work is typical, is subtle, cerebral, and not given to big gestures or sudden contrasts. It’s modern music in the very best of taste. The solo writing stays in the same register of the cello for relatively long periods of time; there’s a feeling of thoroughness and economy here that earns my admiration, even if the music is rarely exciting, at least in the visceral sense. At times, there are intelligent smiles, but no laughter. Momentum probably needs many hearings before one can appreciate it fully, so it is good that Aurora has released it on both LP and CD!

The LP couplings, Solo Intimo and Turn , have been recorded previously. The former, for unaccompanied cello, is a very early work, dating from 1953, but it already displays the composer’s characteristic predilection for limiting his palette and thereby demanding high concentration from both the performer and the listener. In both Momentum and Solo Intimo , cellist Kullberg has the required intensity and intelligence, but not the tonal personality of a Rostropovich, for example. This is not music that puts the cellist on display, and so if the playing seems a little cool and detached, perhaps that is not really Kullberg’s fault. Turn , originally composed in 1973 for clavichord, here is played on the piano by the composer himself. Nørgård built Turn around a structural device he calls “infinity rows” (I’ve seen it identified elsewhere as “infinity series.”) In essence, it is derived from integer sequences. (The most familiar integer sequence probably is the Fibonacci series: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55, etc.) The music is even tempered and, again, limited but not necessarily limiting. It will remind some listeners of Minimalism, but it really is not. Nørgård’s playing is secure and obviously authoritative.

Turning to the CD, the concertos by Nordheim (recently deceased) and Saariaho have been recorded previously, and those recordings (featuring cellists Truls Mørk and Anssi Karttunen, respectively) were welcomed with open arms in Fanfare . Curiously, Aurora is claiming that this new recording of Tenebrae is a first recording—I say “curiously” because Mørk’s recording, issued about 20 years ago, also is on this label! Tenebrae is based on the Roman Catholic ceremony, associated with the end of Holy Week, in which several candles are extinguished, one by one, to represent the crucifixion of Christ. The remaining lit candle is hidden, and then revealed to represent his resurrection. The Tenebrae ceremony has inspired many composers across many centuries, and Nordheim’s creation is not so much a concerto as a rite in which the soloist serves as the celebrant. Coming after Nørgård’s dispassionate Momentum, Tenebrae is rather shocking in its emotional frankness. Kullberg’s performance, seconded by conduct Bywalec and the New Music Orchestra (a fine Polish ensemble founded in 1996), is passionate and clear-toned.

Saariaho’s Amers is a concerto for cello, ensemble, and electronics. The title means “bouys,” and the concerto does, in fact, evoke the sea—not illustratively, in the manner of La Mer , but in the sense that the sea can be characterized by continuously shifting relationships within and between space, light, and sound, and these relationships can be represented musically. This is striking and evocative music—by far the most colorful on either of these releases. Rather than calling attention to themselves, the electronics seamlessly blend into the fabric woven by the cello and the ensemble. Amers might be modern music, and its language might not be easy, but there’s no missing the strength of the communication.

I guess the choice is obvious. If you are more interested in Nørgård, buy the LP. If you are more interested in recent cello concertos from Scandinavia, buy the CD. If you can’t decide, buy both. If I had to limit myself to one, though, I’d choose the CD, given the strength and the variety of the works contained therein.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Tenebrae by Arne Nordheim
Performer:  Jakob Kullberg (Cello)
Conductor:  Szymon Bywalec
Written: 1982 
Date of Recording: 12/2010 
Venue:  Karol Szymanowski Music Academy, Katowic 
Length: 25 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Amers by Kaija Saariaho
Performer:  Jakob Kullberg (Cello)
Conductor:  Szymon Bywalec
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1992; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 02/2012 
Venue:  Karol Szymanowski Music Academy, Katowic 
Length: 20 Minutes 6 Secs. 
Cello Concerto No. 2 "Momentum" by Per Norgård
Performer:  Jakob Kullberg (Cello)
Conductor:  Szymon Bywalec
Written: 2009 
Date of Recording: 12/2009 
Venue:  Karol Szymanowski Music Academy, Katowic 
Length: 20 Minutes 10 Secs. 

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