Fanfare 4. review (5 stars, Max)
April 4, 2021
Colin Clarke, Fanfare
Five stars: "Sunleif Rasmussen is a composer who has an individual voice and is clearly a master of his craft. - Petri’s artistry is everything one might imagine, and more.
Hailing from the island of Sandoy in the Faroe Islands, Sunleif Rasmussen (born 1961) has impressed a number of critics in these pages. His works have appeared on the BIS, Dacapo, and OUR Recordings labels. The present disc takes its title from the last-heard work, Territorial Songs. Sunelif Rasmussen is a composer who has an individual voice and is clearly a master of his craft.
Written for recorder and string trio in 2012, Flow was originally intended as a companion piece to Mozart’s D-Major Flute Quartet, K 285, with Rasmussen offering something of a modernist deconstruction of the Mozart. Even the hallowed sonata form is not safe, dissolving where the recap should be. Michala Petri and the Esbjerg Ensemble find a real playfulness in the first movement. There is the feeling of something deconstructed about the central Tranquillo, too, a deliberate implication of something not quite right; and as the music progresses it becomes more and more exploratory, including some otherworldly multiphonics and harmonics. This is by far the most extended movement, at nearly twelve minutes; and, despite the trickery of the effects, it is Rasmussen’s ability to work with simple melodic and harmonic material that is actually most impressive. The finale, harmlessly entitled “Rondeau,” is an active, jagged dance. It is easy to hear Mozart behind this, standing well back but present nonetheless.
The piece simply entitled I (“Jeg,” 2011) for recorder and chamber choir to verses by Danish modernist Inger Christensen, themselves a response to Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. The use of a bass recorder adds a breathy depth to the recorder’s lines and commentary, against which the wonderful Danish National Vocal Ensemble sings. The vocal ensemble’s sound and textures are beyond criticism. I assume this is exactly the same performance that was issued by OUR Recordings in in 2012 and reviewed in Fanfare (the recording date is given 2011). The control of the sopranos is fabulous as is, in fact, the control of the choir as a whole
Taking its name from a sacred hymn, the Sorrow and Joy Fantasy is for solo recorder; interestingly enough there is a more expansive piece with the same name (although given in German) for wind quintet, string quintet, piano (doubling harpsichord) and guitar. The recorder piece is a set of twelve variation modelled on the carollinear (see elsewhere in this issue for a disc of carillon music) Jacob van Eyck. Petri’s artistry is everything one might imagine, and more.
Subtitled “Hommage á Axel Borup-Jørgensen, the 2014 piece Winter Echoes for recorder and 13 solo strings acts in high contrast. The angularity of the string writing implies a Faroese Bartók. Rasmussen’s title works perfectly with what he offers us: the “echoes” referring to compositional overlaps and imitations, the “Winter” acknowledging Borup-Jørgensen’s propensity for works with that title. Using the time-honored idea of darkness to light, Rasmussen has the soloist progress from bass to treble recorder during the course of the piece. The feeling of a dizzying moto perpetuo is remarkable, all the more so that, performed in a slightly restrained manner, it has the effect of the edge taken off it, like the way snow dampens sound. The stamina and concentration required for that extended toccata is remarkable, both from soloist and ensemble; it cedes to a cadenza for alto recorder. It is the treble recorder that has the final word, ascending on high, alone. All credit to the Lapland Chamber Orchestra under Clemens Schuldt for their fine contribution.
Bells usher in the work which gives the disc its title. Territorial Songs (2009) for recorder and orchestra. Joined here by the Aalborg Symphony and conductor Henrik Vagn Christensen, Rasmussen creates pools of “territorial space” in which players perform independently of the conductor. One can perhaps hear echoes of Lutosławski, but they are distant ones. The underlying inspiration is birdsong (a decidedly territorial creature that also uses song to attract a mate), itself through the writings of Italo Calvino. While man cannot live by texture alone, Rasmussen’s achievement is to carve a piece out of textural elements while creating a highly individualized experience. The stasis created by the Tranquillo fourth movement (of five) is remarkable. Petri and her players sound thoroughly engaged throughout; heard in a cracking, top-drawer recording, ambient, warm yet detailed. This is the true highlight of a most stimulating disc.
I must make a note to search out Rasmussen’s Symphony No. 2, “The Earth Anew,” of 2015, a composed life cycle based on the myth of the tree of life, Yggdrasil (it has been recorded on Dacapo). In the meantime, this gives me plenty to be getting on with and it will for you, too. Colin Clarke
Five stars: Sunleif Rasmussen is a composer who has an individual voice and is clearly a master of his craft