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Fanfare 1 (US) - Kaltoft’s cool dispassion is an important quality of these performances

July 9, 2016

Ronald E. Grames

BORUP-JØRGENSEN Thalatta! Thalatta!. Marine Sketches. Winter Pieces. Summer Intermezzi. Passacaglia for piano. Raindrop Interludes. Epigrams. Miniature Suite. Prelude for piano. Phantasiestücke for celesta  Erik Kaltoft (pn, cel)  OUR RECORDINGS 6.220616 (SACD: 65:46)

An image I often find helpful when listening to a Axel Borup-Jørgensen piece is of a picture which, when approached, is revealed to be made up of a multitude of smaller pictures, each as exquisitely wrought as the larger image. Given pianist Erik Kaltoft’s description of the minute details of touch and subtle dynamic differentiation, all meticulously notated in scores he describes as “calligraphed,” I suspect it is not a bad generalization. It seems particularly useful when approaching this composer’s piano music. These works, written at various points throughout his long composing career, may vary according to the focus of his work at the time, but all are distinguished by a Ravelian obsession with detail and craftsmanship.
Unlike Ravel, his perfectionism did not result in a particularly small output, except among works for solo piano, of which, we are told, these represent the major portion. There were, Kaltoft observes, many more which were never finished. With these few, though, and the unique Phantasiestücke for celesta, we can trace the development of his compositional voice from the late-Romantic and Impressionistic chromaticism of the music of his 20s, to his Webern-inspired Expressionist experiments of the 1950s, prior to his trips to Darmstadt in 1959 and 1962, to the new simplicity-inspired, atonal, but never serial works of the 1970s, to the more consciously expressive works of his later maturity. Along the way, Borup-Jørgensen was influenced by avant-garde literature as much as avant-garde music. In particular, it was the austere Swedish poetry of Gunnar Björling as much as any meeting or sojourn to Germany that decided the direction his music took in the 50s and 60s. And like Danish composer Vagn Holmboe, he was deeply affected by nature, endeavoring to compose music that exists and develops as nature does. Hence he has the sea shimmering or swelling in works like Marine Sketches and Thalatta! Thalatta! quite aside from any feelings they evoke. And winter and summer are made sound experiences in Winter Pieces and Summer Intermezzi rather than being recreations of the composer’s reaction to them.
Sheer virtuosity is less important to performing this music—although not wholly unnecessary—than poetic restraint, and Kaltoft’s cool dispassion is an important quality of these performances. Yet, even in the most severe passages, he is unfailingly lovely of tone. Another Danish pianist, Erik Skjoldan, recorded five of these pieces for the Point label back in 1995, when that recording, and a Dacapo release of organ works, was about all that was available in the U.S. to represent the Danish composer’s work. First impressions often stick, and I am quite fond of his much freer, almost improvisatory, way with the five works he performs. He almost invariably takes greater time—sometimes for slower tempos, but as often to add meaningful pauses—and he offers a greater dynamic range. I have no idea if the composer had a preference for this or for the more literal and subdued approach of Kaltoft. Skjoldan was chosen to perform with Borup-Jørgensen at a concert celebrating the composer’s 80th birthday. Kaltoft writes in his notes of the many opportunities he had for close study with the composer.
No matter: the best art invites many approaches, and I am pleased to now be able to experience two visions of these pieces. Not only does this new release offer five works not currently in the discography of this important composer, it does so in OUR Recordings superb DXD recording, which creates an image of a piano in a supportive space as well as I have ever experienced. There are superb, informative notes in a lovely booklet. Recommended, even to—no, especially to—those who already have the earlier release. Ronald E. Grames

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