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Fanfare (US) Remarkable, demanding but infinitely rewarding music in impeccable performances

December 16, 2018

Colin Clarke, Fanfare

Fanfare US
BORUP-JØRGENSEN floating islands, four versions: op. 169/5a; op. 169/0; op. 169/1; op. 169/5b. Tristrophoni, op. 163/1. praeambula, op. 72. morceaux, op. 73. für gitarre, op. 86 — Frederik Munk Larsen (gtr) — OUR SACD 6.220672 (51:03)

The music of Axel Borup-Jørgensen has impressed me previously on a number of occasions. The “animated fantasy” MARIN made my 2018 Want List (it was reviewed in full in Fanfare 41:4), while a disc of recorder music shattered any ideas of expected gentilité from this instrument (Fanfare 37:5). Perhaps the most immediately memorable, though, was a SACD of organ music played by Jens Christensen (Fanfare 40:4).
So here we turn to a predominantly gentle side of the composer in the expert hands of Frederik Munk Larsen, Associate Professor and head of the classical guitar program at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus, Denmark. His technique clearly knows no bounds; his performances of Borup-Jørgensen’s music speak of the highest devotion. The title of the present disc is that of the most prevalent piece, floating islands; as we contrast Borup-Jørgensen’s changing compositional voice from the earliest pieces (praeambula, 1974, revised 1976, morceaux, 1974/75 and für gitarre, 1978/79) to the later (Tristophoni, 2000, floating islands, 2000/02), we find an increased emphasis on natural harmonics in the more recent pieces. In floating islands, op. 169:0, we hear a piece verging on the audible written only in harmonics, each precisely notated (the title comes both from the idea of those harmonics as islands of sound and from the great poem The Dead Pan by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, specifically the four lines beginning at, “Can your mystic voices tell us/Where ye hide? In floating islands …”), while the Webernian brevity of the four movements of Tristophoni (heard here in its first version) speak of a remarkable concision. Natural harmonics again feature, in panels of the utmost beauty; Borup-Jørgensen revels here, as elsewhere on the disc, in the “softening” of dissonant intervals via the timbral voice of the guitar.
The 1976 revision for the first recording of praeambula is what is heard here. A quarter-hour piece subdivided into some twelve sections plus coda, the work explores a set of moods (it was originally intended to be a set of pieces but the material demanded a larger canvas). That first recording by Erling Møldrup is available on a Danacord disc entitled Early Morn; it is impossible to claim a preference between Larsen and Møldrup, as both play with full dedication and concentration. Importantly, praeambula’s material would turn up again in the op. 73 morceaux (included here), the op. 76 Preludien and the Guitar Concerto, op. 98, subtitled “déjà-vu”. Most importantly, perhaps, there is great beauty here; if the underlying story of this disc is the love Borup-Jørgensen has for the guitar and the gentleness he finds at the instrument’s core, it is perhaps in praeambula that we find its surest and clearest manifestation. The morceaux, op. 73, while taking its material from praeambula, contains maximal contrast in its brevity (the third movement is just over two minutes but the rest vary between 35 seconds and just over a minute).
The extended für gitarre uses “Bartók snaps,” wherein the guitar string is forcibly plucked so it rebounds against the fingerboard. This piece seems particularly harmonically complex, and all the more enigmatic for it. Larsen’s performance is faultless.
Many of Borup-Jørgensen’s works are published by Editions-S, and indeed Larsen gives an introduction to Borup-Jørgensen’s guitar works (in English) on the publisher’s website: http://www.edition-s.dk/media/guitarist-frederik-munk-larsen-talks-about-the-guitar-music-by-axel-borup-jørgensen. Our thanks are surely due to the Danish OUR Recordings label for its continuing belief in Borup-Jørgensen’s music. Production standards, from the intimate, perfectly judged recording to the booklet notes, are of the very highest. Remarkable, demanding but infinitely rewarding music in impeccable performances. Colin Clarke