March 28, 2021
RASMUSSEN Flow1. “I.”2 Sorrow and Fear Fantasy. Winter Echoes3. Territorial Songs4 • Michala Petri (rec); 1Esbjerg Ens. 2Stephen Layton, cond; Danish National Vocal Ens.; 3Clemens Schuldt, cond; Lapland C. O.; 4Henrik Vagn Christensen, con; Aalborg S. O. • OUR RECORDINGS 6.220674 (72:31)
All of the music on this intriguing disc was written for the acclaimed recorder player Michala Petri by Danish composer Sunleif Rasmussen (he prefers to consider himself Faroese, as he was born on the Faroe island Sandoy, an autonomous region within the Kingdom of Denmark). I admire composers who utilize such antique instruments in new music. I cringe when I hear someone say that the harpsichord was replaced by the piano – they are, of course, two different instruments. Similarly, although the flute is related to the recorder, they have distinctly different timbres, and Rasmussen clearly has chosen his solo instrument for the purpose of expressing music with its particular sound.
This music covers a broad range of styles. Flow is essentially a neo-Classical quartet for recorder and string trio in the manner of Stravinsky, with a typical fast-slow-fast arrangement of movements. It is well crafted and contains original melodic material. The specific influence is the Mozart Flute Quartet in D. I is, perhaps, the most striking work on the program, a nine minute work for solo bass recorder and chamber choir, and an homage to the Wallace Sevens poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. The ornithological elements are revealed in the chirping sounds heard in both the singing and the solo playing, but there is a haunting human level as well, as intense conversations emerge from the sound mass. The recorder is by itself in the arioso -like Sorrow and Joy Fantasy, and in the Winter Echoes Rasmussen returns to a recorder and strings format, this time with fourteen players. Here his style is more modernistic, but also, as the title suggests, with a nod towards impressionism. The music moves from a bass heavy opening to a more expansive dynamic, as the solo recorder becomes more and more prominent, with a propulsive momentum driving the material ahead with icy tonality. The five Territorial Songs, completed in 2009 when Rasmussen was composer in residence at the South Jutland symphony Orchestra, is in some ways a summation of the various manners of expression heard in the balance of this program, and the only work to include instrumentation other than reorder and strings. The Songs are performed without pauses, giving the impression of a single tone poem. The music is colorful and playful, covering a great breadth of drama and emotion.
Performances are strong and committed, although there is some scrappiness in some of the string playing of the Lapland Chamber Orchestra. The Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, a new organization to me, plays with precision and focus, reflecting the extraordinarily high standards of regional ensembles these days, worldwide. Petri approaches this material with the same discipline and intelligence that she provides for Telemann. Peter Burwasser
4 Stars: A fascinating collection of contemporary Scandinavian music for recorder, written for one of the great practitioners of the instrument.