Readers possessed of particularly good memories may recall my favorable review of Axel Borup-Jørgensen’s piano music just two issues ago. This Danish composer had an unusually distinct compositional voice, one which might not appeal to every reader of this magazine, but would to many readers, as it did to this reviewer. These are not showy virtuosic works, but (as the booklet notes) they emerge from stillness. The disc opens with Portal, scored for organ and percussion, wherein the listener is quickly immersed in thunder-evoking timpani rolls (the effect, however, is quite dissimilar to that produced by Berlioz in his Symphonie fantastique). The organ is used only in the piece to employ subtle dissonant chords in its tenor register, as the timpani dominates the proceedings throughout. For orgel IV features almost other-worldly sonorities in the organ, produced by sustained clusters of notes in the treble staff with Pointillistic interjections by the feet and other hand of the organist. Around the five-minute mark, Borup-Jørgensen brings in some of the ascending non-tonal arpeggiated figures that I noted in a number of his piano works in my previous review. The organ is equally if not more effective in this figuration.
Strophen adds an alto voice to the organ. The dark character of the voice is enhanced by the equally dark stops employed in the piece, and the work is the musicafication (don’t go looking this word up in your dictionary: It’s my coinage for the musical equivalent of personification) of depression. So, I wouldn’t listen to this if you need a good cheering up, but the piece will reveal its exquisite beauty to most listeners. Kalligrafier continues the mood but not the register of the preceding work, as it resumes an exploration of the upper notes in the organ’s wide range of pitches. As far as I can tell without access to a score, the piece eschews the pedals entirely, in fact. It forms an interesting conflation of Pointillistic and sustained sonorities, and ends in a whisper. Für Cembalo und Orgel deftly synthesizes harpsichord and organ sounds, something that I doubt that Max Reger, for instance, could have brought off, even if he’d wanted to. Borup-Jørgensen can get away with it because for him the organ is rarely the powerhouse instrument that it often is for other composers; it is instead a vehicle for colors, often pastel ones. Thus, this combination of harpsichord and organ, given its utterly distinctive sound, is a particular testimony to his gifts as a composer. It is my favorite work on the disc.
Textures are unsurprisingly more dense in the Organo per due for two organists, which was written for Eva Feldbæk and her colleague Jens Christensen. The notes don’t specify if this work is intended to be played on a single instrument or on two. By Borup-Jørgensen’s standards, the piece becomes more dramatically turgid than does most of his generally subtle music. Trilogi adds a bass voice to the organ, or more accurately, alternates organ and bass, as the two never perform simultaneously. The organ plays a few dissonant chords, and the bass follows with a wandering, more tonally focused line, and back and forth they go. The effect of the piece is an evocation of timelessness, and it is hauntingly beautiful. The text of this work is drawn from writings of Rilke and Nietzsche, and deals with transitions to darker times, reflections I have to say are particularly appropriate nowadays.
The Italian word misterioso graces the score at the beginning of For orgel XI, and sums up the essence of the piece. This particular work utilizes a greater range of the organ than most heard herein, as the composer explores different registers in its various sections. Closing the disc is winter music, which once again adds percussion and, like the first work in the recital, opens with a roll in the timpani. This work is, however, almost 10 times the length of Portal, giving the composer much more time to develop his ideas, and here the organ also has a much more prominent role. The piece is full of sound and fury (at around the seven-minute mark, you’ll hear the greatest outburst of timpani you’ve likely ever heard in a piece of music), but unlike what Shakespeare has his character state in Macbeth, it does signify something, and something quite profound at that. As in Strophen, this is dark music, and will engender sober reflection on the part of the listener.
Listening to an entire CD of music by Axel Borup-Jørgensen is quite an emotionally draining experience, although the experience lingers pleasantly in my memory, as I like Borup-Jørgensen’s organ music even better than I did his piano music. Aficionados of the new and unusual will find it as rewarding as I did, and to them, I recommend this disc wholeheartedly.