Fanfare Magazine (US)- Produced and engineered by Preben Iwan, The Percussion Universe of Axel Borup-Jørgensen is among the handful of very best percussion recordings that I have heard.
September 11, 2014
Ronald E. Grames
BORUP-JØRGENSEN Solo, op. 88. Music for percussion + viola1. La Primavera2. Periphasis3. Winter Music4 Gert Mortensen (perc), 1cond; 1Tim Fredericksen (va); 3Michala Petri (rcr); 2Duo Crossfire; 1Percurama Perc Ens; 4Danish Natl SO Brass Qnt OUR RECORDINGS 6.220608 (SACD 72:44)
I rarely start a review with a discussion of sound quality, but with recordings of percussion, engineering is especially significant. Produced and engineered by Preben Iwan, The Percussion Universe of Axel Borup-Jørgensen is among the handful of very best percussion recordings that I have heard. In this extreme high-resolution DXD recording, the soundstage is open and realistic in both two-track and surround playback. Even the slightest shimmer of sound is captured with clarity and space, and the loudest ictus of the bass drums and toms are effortlessly caught. Gongs palpably fill the listening space.
The recording, because of the wide dynamic range, is rather low level, so be careful not to set the volume too high if starting with the nearly inaudible crotales and cymbals at the beginning of track three. With a good sound system set at a realistic level, the impression of the instruments in the room is almost tangible, with the visceral impact as real as the musical. Too often, the sheer physicality of percussion playing is lost in the recording. Here we cannot see the raw effort, of course, but it can be felt. I do not, however, want to give the impression that this is a mere bang-fest. Like all of Borup- Jørgensen’s chamber music, much of what happens musically is extremely subtle. The music can hit the listener in the gut at times, but it is as much the color, and complexity, and the pacing of narrative flow that captures and maintains attention through these five works. The superb engineering assures that we can hear it all.
OUR Recordings, the label of guitarist/lutenist Lars Hannibal and recorder virtuoso Michala Petri, previewed this release in its first Borup-Jørgensen disc (Fanfare 37:5), a release devoted to the composer’s music for recorder. Periphasis for percussion and recorder (1979), repeated in this program, continues to impress with its imaginative partnering of these two disparate instruments. One should note, in particular, the ingenious way that the two antithetical voices are established, combined, reset in opposition, and without the percussion ever overwhelming its quieter partner. Music for percussion + viola, an early work from 1956, offers another unlikely matching, but with a very different handling of the voices. In it, one can clearly hear the neo-classicism, which would become even more personal in later works, now with Stravinskian piano ostinati, and the carefully poised, melodic viola solo balanced over the cool, precise, somewhat restrained percussion ensemble. Yet to come was the lyrical-expressionist style, full of detail and silences, which grew out of the composer’s love of poetry and its pacings and rhythms.
Music for percussion + viola has been recorded before. The remaining three pieces are being given world premiere recordings. World premiere needs to be qualified, however, for Winter Music, op. 113:1 (1981–1984) since the version for percussion and organ (op. 113:2) has been recorded before and is still available on DaCapo. This version for brass quintet and percussion is more ominous and dramatic than that with organ, and the brass more clearly illumine the often fractured, fanfare-like exclamations, reminiscent of Varèse, against the frequently violent statements from the percussionist. The piece takes its tone from a poem exploring the dark oppressiveness of the Nordic winter, and its fragmented, halting ending suggests despair.
Solo (1979) gives percussionist Gert Mortensen an impressive but rather sunnier workout, employing, as it does, a wide variety of instruments, tuned and untuned, from all three percussion families, wood, metal, and skin, and at all volume levels. So does La Primavera (1982), in which Mortensen is joined by Chinese colleague Qiao Jia Jia, his partner in Duo Crossfire, professor at the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music, and director the Music Confucius Institute of the Copenhagen Royal Academy of Music. If there is a characteristic mature work, this is it: lapidary in its attention to subtle details, seemingly narrative in its creation of a line of event, but often leisurely in its unfolding until a climax is reached, and mesmerizing in its contemplation of color, nuance, silence, rhythm, and the interplay of these.
Gert Mortensen is amazing throughout the program, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows him as one of the premiere percussionists in the world. His colleagues—the students and professionals in the Percurama Percussion Ensemble which he founded and leads; violist Tim Fredeickson, esteemed teacher and soloist, and son of the violist for whom Music was written; the DNSO Brass Quintet; and of course duo partner Qiao Jia Jia—are no less impressive. Audiophiles will want this disc to show off the system, and percussion enthusiasts will certainly want to acquire this, as will fans of Borup-Jørgensen. For the latter, OUR Recordings’ association with Edition Borup-Jørgensen fosters hope, with sufficient sales, that there will be further exploration of this composer’s large catalog of works in the years ahead. Ronald E. Grames