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Thommessen: Bull's Eye, Etc / Herresthal, Gupta, Et Al

Release Date: 04/25/2006 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1512   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Olav Anton Thommessen
Performer:  Peter HerresthalGonzalo Moreno
Conductor:  Rolf Gupta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Olav Anton Thommessen has made a career writing works based on older music, not in the sense of, say, Stravinsky's Pulcinella, in which the model gets updated and refashioned in the composer's own image, but closer to the style of Berio (Sinfonia) or Druckman (Prism), where a collage-like technique creates a stimulating confrontation between the old and the new. The music asks much of its listeners: it depends to a certain extent on your own ability to identify and respond to the various styles being juxtaposed, as well as on your comfort level in processing a potentially bewildering parade of aural imagery.

Thommessen isn't just an advocate of this style of composition: he's a virtuoso at it, most famous for his
Read more brilliant and often witty deconstruction of beloved countryman Edvard Grieg, in his Macrofantasy over Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor. And this piece is merely one part of a much larger work, A Glass Bead Game, containing five other independent compositions. This explains why Thommessen's music remains a comparative rarity both outside and within his native Norway: he writes on a very large scale and often isn't terribly practical about the demands he makes on his listeners and players. And yet, here is one composer whose extravagance rewards the effort and attention made in getting to know him. If you accept the basic premise going in, you'll seldom be disappointed.

Bull's eye, for example, is an extraordinary "symphonic wrapping" of Ole Bull's Violin Concerto in A, arranged for solo violin and double orchestra. The work was prompted by the discovery of an incomplete manuscript of the concerto, prompting Thommessen not to "complete" the work, but to fill it in with his own sort of creative commentary. The result bears a certain kinship to Berio's Rendering, based on Schubert. But whereas Berio gently interposes his own personality between Schubert and the listener, Thommessen seizes Bull by the scruff of the neck and gives him a good, hard shake. The original music of 1834 is very much present, but it's often distorted, rearranged, updated, or fragmented. Moments of Straussian rapture, outrageously high passages for the soloist, taped sounds, and orchestration of scorching intensity parade across the sonic stage. It's great fun, and poetic too: at the end, the music ever so gradually and regretfully evaporates into nothingness.

Soloist Peter Herresthal does an excellent job with what would have been a taxing solo part even under normal circumstances. Bull was very much Norway's answer to Paganini, and Thommessen's addition of the full panoply of modern playing techniques doesn't make the violinist's job any easier. The Oslo Philharmonic also plays very well under Rolf Gupta, making this one of the standout contemporary music releases of 2006. Certainly any recording of one of Thommessen's major orchestral works, never mind one this good, must be counted an event. Stunning engineering, particularly vivid with the extra spatial presence of SACD multichannel sound, completes this wholly winning picture.

The couplings, Please Accept My Ears, for violin and piano, and Cantabile, a 14-minute etude for solo violin, offer further evidence of Thommessen's fertile imagination. The latter work in particular sustains its length remarkably well, even if (Bach and Biber aside) pieces such as this seem made more for the player than the listener. Herresthal's playing here isn't quite immaculate, but given the difficulty of the music you can't really blame him. And although I would have preferred to hear another large orchestral work, beggars can't be choosers. Thommessen's music deserves far greater exposure than it has received, but until that day comes, if it ever does, this disc makes an excellent introduction to his ebullient and provocative art.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

BULL's eye by Olav Anton Thommessen
Performer:  Peter Herresthal (Violin)
Conductor:  Rolf Gupta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2003; Norway 
Please Accept my Ears by Olav Anton Thommessen
Performer:  Gonzalo Moreno (Piano), Peter Herresthal (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1981; Norway 
Cantabile for Violin solo "Etyde Cadenza" by Olav Anton Thommessen
Performer:  Peter Herresthal (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995; Norway 

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