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A great 5 stars review in US Magazine Fanfare

March 24, 2022

Phillip Scott

 RUDERS Harpsichord Concerto  Mahan Esfani (hpsd); Leif Segerstam, cond; Aarhus SO  OUR 9.70896 (20:58) Webtransfer file.

Poul Ruders is a composer of such broad stylistic range that you can never predict what direction any new work of his might take. It may be a fiercely uncompromising journey, as in his First Violin Concerto; referential to recognizable musical tropes as in his Second Guitar Concerto (“Paganini Variations”), or an examination of color as in his accordion concerto, “Serenade on the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean”. Usually, all these elements are present to some extent in his work, as they are in this exciting Harpsichord Concerto from 2019.
The first movement opens with an almost ceremonial orchestral statement, and similar portentous orchestral writing punctuates the movement while the soloist busies himself with moto perpetuo figuration. This is clearly a reference to Baroque music, but harmonically edgy. The disquiet comes from a feeling of the soloist as an individual in an unfriendly environment; a sense of keeping one’s head down and keeping busy. The Andante gives us a gentler version of the same thing: here, the solo instrument is more introspective, almost dreamlike––dreams are often a part of Ruders’s inspiration––in an atmospheric but still vaguely ominous orchestral setting. In the Vivace third movement, the harpsichord becomes more assertive and, finally in cahoots with the orchestra, a relentless, chugging energy is produced. It is as if the individual had decided to join the rat race. This is later punctuated (alla breve) with a chorale that resembles a distorted variation of the Dies Irae theme. The movement progresses this way until it comes to a halt on an orchestral chord of indeterminate tonality, leaving us harmonically up in the air. As well as its interest as sheer music, Ruders’s concerto has something to say about the modern era and our place in it. It is a fascinating piece, towering above many 20th and 21st century harpsichord works, because it moves on from examining the instrument from a historical perspective and literally integrates it into a contemporary world.
The performance is quite brilliant. I last encountered harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani in Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, part of The Brandenburg Project (a compilation of new companion works written to accompany the six Bach concertos), where he contributed a dazzling cadenza. (I reviewed that set in Fanfare 45:2). His work in Ruders’s concerto surmounts every technical challenge, belying its difficulty. The Aarhus Symphony Orchestra plays with discipline and superb blend, and of course Segerstam is in his element. The sound quality, as always with this company, is open, warm and natural. I sincerely hope this recording turns up on disc at some point: not simply because I am a CD-collecting dinosaur, but also because previous CDs from OUR Recordings have been such beautifully produced, classy affairs. Phillip Scott

Five stars: An exciting new concerto from Poul Ruders.