Fanfare 1(US) !I am very impressed with this release. Both videos are deeply stirring, and should serve the purpose of making the greatness of the music better known".
October 31, 2017
Ronald E. Grames
BORUP-JØRGENSEN MARIN – An Animated Fantasy. AXEL – A Portrait Film • Thomas Søndergård, cond; Danish Natl SO • OUR 2.110426 (DVD: 58:24 + SACD: 78:29)
Selections by Borup-Jørgensen taken from previous releases
Axel Borup-Jørgensen is widely considered Denmark’s outstanding Modernist composer, an Expres-sionist with an engaging and often quite beautiful lyricism to his essentially atonal, but not serial, mo-dus operandi. Revered though he is amongst a circle of composers, conductors, and instrumentalists in Denmark—and this is made clear in the biographical film that is part of this release—Borup-Jørgensen is less familiar to many concert-going Danes, and is all but unknown in the United States. He wrote music inspired by many things, notably poetry and nature; and of the latter, the lakes and woodlands of his native Denmark and especially the majesty and silences of Swedish nature, remem-bered from his youth. Despite Modernist influences, this deeply emotional music is never an exercise in abstract construction.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in his tone poem Marin, one of only a handful of orchestral scores by the Danish composer and considered by most who know his music to be his masterpiece. The 20-minute composition was the work of seven years, from 1963 until 1970: an unusually dense score with up to 55 solo lines employed, much in the manner of Ligeti in the deployment of complex textures. Those resources are often used with restraint. There are but a few instances of the bold dramatics of Debussy’s La mer, but much of the same subtlety of coloration and most definitely the same illustra-tive purpose.
Edition Borup-Jørgensen and OUR Recordings have joined with Lückow Film to bring the music of this master to a larger audience through the visual medium. Marin – An Animated Fantasy offers a visual journey to complement the tone poem, utilizing the remarkable rendering capabilities of modern computer graphics. It begins with a fly-over of the ocean surface and a dive into a tunnel in an island-like structure rising out of the sea, a return-to-the-womb image to anyone susceptible to Freudian interpretation. The passage leads to a fish-less realm not far below the surface populated by ma-renes, humanoid figures with conical shells in place of legs. A single marene, gliding along the floor of the sea, introduces us to this world: passing undersea mountains, imposing rocks, simmering volcanic vents, soaring stone arches, colossal wrought figures, and on into a city made of seashell-like struc-tures. There we are witnesses, as the daylight filtering from above fades and strange massive figures float into the city, to a ritual gathering of the inhabitants of the city into a great central temple of organic structure. There we witness a sacrifice, or apotheosis, of several of the inhabitants.
The visuals are quite striking: imaginative, colorful, powerful, with exquisitely rendered surface de-tails, gorgeous light effects, and a fine sense of being under water. In truth, the marenes, with their rudimentary features and mummy-like wrap, are a bit unnerving, especially in close-up. The temple, though, with its great arched ceilings, current-swayed plant-like structures, and central up-current of water and golden globules ascending through the opening of an immense dome, is intensely beautiful, as is most of the setting. Many of the shapes found in the underwater settings are taken from Borup-Jørgensen’s own primitivistic icons, some of which appeared in his scores. It is an inventive visual fan-tasy, mysterious in its ambiguity of image and narrative.
The same powerful reading of Marin used in the video, newly recorded by Thomas Søndergård and Danish National Symphony Orchestra, appears again in audio on the SACD that accompanies the DVD. The recording, made in ultra high-resolution DXD format, is noticeably sharper and more detailed in the uncompressed DXD (SACD) audio format, where the music’s extraordinary detail is presented with spectacular clarity. Having greatly appreciated the video on its own terms, it is the audio disc that I would choose if I wished to focus on Marin itself. I would prefer it both for the crystalline rendering of the music and—I must be honest—to be free of the diversion by the imagery, beautiful as it is. The ambiguity of the visual narrative, intended to avoid conflict with the appreciation of the music, actual-ly distracted me as I tried to assign meaning and significance to it. A vacuum demands to be filled with something, and a mystery must be solved.
The remainder of the SACD offers a sampling of six works from recent recordings of Borup-Jørgensen’s chamber works on the OUR Recordings and Dacapo labels. Information about those re-cordings, about Marin, about the performers and the composer, and about the video project are in-cluded in a handsomely illustrated booklet, but the best part of the whole release, as far as I am con-cerned, is Axel – A Portrait Film. A skillfully constructed 39-minute video collage of live musical per-formances; interviews with articulate and devoted friends, family, and colleagues; and lovely images of places that inspired the composer, it is even more powerful than the animated film in presenting Borup-Jørgensen’s work in a fashion more welcoming to the new listener.
The biographical video is in Danish, but there are subtitles in English. More of an impediment to the U.S. buyer, the videos are only distributed in PAL format, rather than the NTSC format used in North America. This means they will not play in most domestic video players. They do play without a prob-lem on computers with DVD software, but cannot be sent via casting device or HDMI cable to a NTSC-standard television. OUR Recordings will be offering download versions of the video and audio con-tent for home use and another for use in movie theaters. Now that last would be something to see.
Despite these few reservations I’ve noted, I am very impressed with this release. Both videos are deeply stirring, and should serve the purpose of making the greatness of the music better known. In that, I hope that this approach will prove most successful. Ronald E. Grames, November 2017