Fanfare 3 (US) - Warmly recommended to fans of contemporary keyboard music

July 29, 2016

David DeBoor Canfield

BORUP-JØRGENSEN “Thalatta! Thalatta!” Marine skitser. winter pieces. sommer intermezzi. Passacaglia. regndråbe interludier. Epigrammer. Miniaturesuite. Praeludier. “Phantasiestück” for celesta  Erik Kaltoft (pn, cel)  OUR RECORDINGS 6.220616 (65:46)

I first became familiar with the music of Axel Borup-Jørgensen back in the LP era, when I came across some Danish recordings containing such works as his Winterpieces, Nordic Summer Pastoral, and Music for Percussion and Viola. Nevertheless, this long-lived (1924-2012) composer was not particularly well-represented on LP, and so I’m glad to see some continuing attention paid to his music in the CD era. Since he composed a good 250 works, the CD companies will have a fair amount of work ahead of them to get any significant portion of his output into the hands of collectors. This disc, containing 10 of his works for keyboard (nine for piano and one for celesta) is certainly a good start. Interestingly, Borup-Jørgensen was one of the first Danish composers to attend the Darmstadt School, but never composed any serial music. Pianist Erik Kaltoft has had a 45-year history with the composer, and so his present performances may said to have the stamp of authority. Apparently, he has performed at least some of them in the presence of their author.
“Thalatta! Thalatta!” opens the recital, and begins with a series of upward arpeggios. These are, mind you, not your major triad broken chords, but a subtly shifting sequence of exotic sonorities. It’s not Minimalism, especially with the interjections after a minute or so of new, block-chordal material and other types of figuration. Cluster-like chords also permeate this piece in a number of places Its title comes from an exclamation purportedly uttered by ancient Greek sailors when they reached the Black Sea. I don’t hear rolling waves, but perhaps some glint of sunlight reflecting from them. Marine Sketches follows, suggesting that its composer was drawn to the subject of the sea. I’m not too surprised, given that Denmark is surrounded by water on three sides, and is even divided by a large channel. Written 40 years before “Thalatta!”, the harmonic style of the piece is more tonally focused, and even seems to be centered on the tonality of G. Each of the six sketches is a small character piece, and these may or may not (the notes are coy on the point) reflect a particular aspect of the sea. Incidentally, Borup-Jørgensen’s major orchestral work is the sea-inspired Marin, Marin.
winter pieces hails from 1959, ten years after the Sketches, and consists of four brief movements and an epilog. In this work, silence plays an especially important role. I guess there must a lot of stillness in Danish winter scenes. In between the silences are seemingly random clusters of notes (or are the silences in between the clusters?), but shortly into the piece, the listener realizes that these “random” sequences are actually nothing of the sort, but form a tapestry, where some of the pictorial representation on it is obscured. One can almost see the icicles hanging from the trees in this frigid work. sommer intermezzi deals with a warmer scene, and shows some similarities in its structure, including the upward arpeggiated figuration, to “Thalatta!” The program notes refer to there being enchantment in the air in this work, and that seems as good a description to me as any.
The Passacaglia, dating from 1948, is the earliest work in this recital—the composer was but 24 years of age when he wrote this Baroque-inspired work. Typical in works in this genre, a sequence of notes is iterated and then forms the basis for a series of variations. The harmonies are exquisite, and the work builds up to an impressive climax. raindrop interludes (Borup-Jørgensen seems to like titles in lower case) is a rather pointillistic work, perfectly suited to the portrayal of raindrops, although I must say these drops seem rather large in size. The notes state that Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude hovers in the background, but I didn’t hear any resemblance to that work, or anything else by Chopin. Nevertheless, the composer has written an evocative nature piece here.
epigrammer (epigrams) is similar in its effect to the preceding work, with its alternation of silence and sound, and once again the upward arpeggios make their appearance. The work is quite austere and foreboding, and sounds as though there ought to be a program attached. Miniaturesuite is another early work, contemporaneous with Marine Sketches. Accordingly, its style is quite a bit more tonal than all of the works in this recital that date from the 1950s or later (doubtless occasioned by his studies at Darmstadt). The Suite makes its statement in terse fashion in five brief movements lasting altogether less than three minutes. Borup-Jørgensen’s Preludes for Piano are opus-mates of his winter pieces, and consequently date from 1958-9. These seven preludes vary a good bit in their forms of expression, but all evince clarity of texture, and make an impression through their extreme range of dynamics. These sound difficult to play, and probably are, but Kaltoft whips them off seemingly effortlessly.
The recital closes with Phantasiestück for celesta, and the very nature of the instrument immediately transports the listener to another musical realm. Once again, one hear’s Borup-Jørgensen’s trademark upward arpeggios and dripping sounds, but heard on the celesta they assume an entirely different character.
The piano artistry of Erik Kaltoft must be applauded. These works need a first-rate pianist to bring across, and he does, superbly. His touch and timing is perfectly tuned to the temperament of the music, and I doubt that anyone else will make a better case for this music. The recorded piano sound is forward and very lifelike. Warmly recommended to fans of contemporary keyboard music. David DeBoor Canfield