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Fanfare 3 "For me, Marin is the strongest work on the SACD"

December 9, 2017

Raymond Tuttle

Fanfare 3
BORUP-JØRGENSEN Marin ● Thomas Søndergård, cond; Danish Natl SO ● OUR 2.110426 (SACD 78:29 + DVD)
 music for percussion + viola. Für Cembalo und Orgel. Nachstück. winter pieces. Pergolato. Coast of Sirens. DVD: Axel – A Portrait Film
The purpose of this release appears to be two-fold: to introduce new listeners to the music of Danish composer Axel Borup-Jørgensen, who died in 2012, and to bring us a spectacular new recording of Marin, one of his few works for orchestra. Promoting this composer has been an ongoing effort for recorder virtuosa Michala Petri (his virtual “second daughter”), Lars Hannibal, and their record label, OUR Recordings: in 2016 (Fanfare 39:3), I reviewed an OUR Recordings tribute to this composer titled Nordic Sound, and it included another of his major works (Sommasvit), plus five works by the composer's friends and colleagues. Here, with this new release, the focus is on Marin, which is not quite 19 minutes in length; the remainder of the SACD is occupied by works and performances previously released on the OUR Recordings or Dacapo labels. On the DVD, the same performance of Marin is paired with an animated fantasy inspired by the music, and the rest of the DVD is devoted to a “portrait film”—in other words, a documentary—about the composer. It is about a half-hour long.
It is interesting to compare Marin with John Luther Adams's Become Ocean, another modern orchestral work inspired by the sea. Arguably, Become Ocean is the more literal of the two, particularly in its musical depiction of waves. In contrast, Marin makes you aware of the water's actual weight. The music has a very heavy sound—and if you've got speakers with a bass good response, wait until you hear this recording, which is an audiophile's dream (and a downstairs neighbor's nightmare). At the same time, Marin was composed to be as precise and detailed as chamber music; Axel Borup-Jørgensen knew what he wanted, and he was not a composer who left things to chance. Although he studied at Darmstadt, he was not a serial composer, and he preferred to follow his instincts than to adhere to dogma or formulas. However, as is stated at the start of the documentary, his goal was not originality, but honesty—particularly with himself, I would imagine. In his own way, Borup-Jørgensen was as exacting as Maurice Ravel, and perhaps I am not too wide of the mark when I suggest that there are similarities between Marin and La valse—except Borup-Jørgensen omits the waltz and drowns Vienna under megatons of salt water!
I enjoyed the “animated fantasy,” which tells a wordless story, although the story is open to multiple interpretations. Suffice it to say that it is set at the bottom of the ocean and features a humanoid civilization that experiences Arthur C. Clarke-like transformative events. The fantasy is quite beautiful, and (fortunately) about as far from Walt Disney and Pixar as one could imagine!
If one of the purposes of this release, as I supposed above, was to stimulate interest in this composer, then it is a success, at least for me. The documentary contains excerpts from many of his works, and these snippets left me wanting to hear more. I'm usually not hugely interested in watching instrumental music being performed, but I make an exception for percussion music (perhaps because a percussionist's movements resemble those of a dancer?), and percussion instruments were very important to this composer. One of the most interesting things I learned about Borup-Jørgensen from this documentary was that he took as much care specifying how he wanted phrases to end as he did specifying how he wanted them to begin, and his music is filled with precise and sometimes innovatively expressed directions for performers. I very much like the idea that endings are just as important as beginnings, as endings are preludes to silence, and silence is just a different sort of music.
For me, Marin is the strongest work on the SACD, and I consider the other works to be a very generous bonus, and perhaps music to grow into over time. Among these bonuses, however, the most striking is Pergolato, a work for solo treble recorder, here played by Michala Petri herself. Borup-Jørgensen composed it for her, and it was his final composition—a very touching way to end a career. Nachstück, for solo tenor recorder, also is very fine, and here, it is played by Elisabet Selin, the composer's daughter, and Petri's only private student.
The other recording of Marin is on the Marco Polo/Dacapo label, and features the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leif Segerstam. It is virtually unavailable, although it has been uploaded onto YouTube. It seems excellent too, but I don't hear a compelling reason for preferring it to this new OUR Recordings release. Raymond Tuttle, December 10th 2017

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