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Great review in Fanfare

March 15, 2024

Raymond Turtle

3rd 5 stars review
IN TIME  Aros Gtr Duo  OUR 8.226919 (58:12)

BUUR In the Spring. LOHSE Ver. BRUUN Dark is November. ZWICKI In Time. FRANDSEN Rollercoaster. SIEGEL Vernalis' Breakdown

Aros Guitar Duo (“Aros” is the old name for the Danish city of Aarhus) is, alphabetically, Mikkel Egelund and Simon Wildau. They both studied at the Royal Academies of Music in Aarhus and then in Copenhagen. They have been playing together for 15 years, and an important component of their work has been commissioning new music, often from Danish composers, for them to perform. In Time is comprised of six works composed for the duo between 2018 and 2021. The theme, in two senses of the word, is an ode by Morten Børup (1446-1526), cantor of the Aarhus Cathedral in latter part of his life. His most famous work is the ode In vernalis temporis (“In Springtime”) because the full melody is played every hour on the hour by the clock (pictured in this release's booklet) on the Aarhus Town Hall. Asger Agerskov Buur was asked to compose a work for the duo that included this theme, and it was such a success that the Duo resolved to ask five more composers to write works in which the theme is used. I suspect that this idea is most meaningful to Danes, specifically to residents of Aarhus, but there is plenty here for international listeners to enjoy. (Also, I understand that Carl Nielsen composed a choral work inspired by Børup's centuries-old melody.)
My favorite work here, at least for the moment, is Martin Lohse's Ver, whose melodic flow is unceasing, and whose harmonic progressions reminded me both of Satie and of, oddly enough, the song Hotel California by The Eagles. The composer was inspired by a portion of the ode's text alluding to “the rays of the sun gathered as a wreath in the drops of the morning dew,” and he writes, “it is a literary image that in many ways describes the music well: A jumble of notes that unites and comes again, like circles of life that slowly grow and change.” I found this work to be hypnotically beautiful. I also particularly enjoyed American composer Wayne Siegel's Vernalis' Breakdown, which was inspired not just by Børup's melody but also by Siegel's purchase of a five-string banjo, which he learned to play in a bluegrass style. (Point of reference: Earl Scruggs.) Danish bluegrass might be a very small genre, and, strictly speaking, Siegel's work is more bluegrass-adjacent than the real thing, but let's not quibble, given how enjoyable the results are. The work ends nicely, with a “shave and a haircut, two bits” cadence. Toe-tapping is allowed, and, I would imagine, encouraged. (“Breakdown,” by the way, does not mean music that has broken down. It refers to a fast tune. Supposedly, because it is too fast to dance to, the dancers are the ones who break down, but I would not stake my professional reputation on that explanation!) The other composers represented here are Peter Bruun, Rasmus Zwicki, and (the veteran in this group) John Frandsen. Together, these works form one “grand suite,” although, to be frank, I think they benefit from being heard separately and enjoyed on their individual merits.
It would be arrogant for me to find fault in the performances by the Aros Guitar Duo, for whom I am sure this is a most personal project. The performances, and the performers' instruments, have been captured nicely by the engineering team, and if you enjoy hearing new music for the guitar, this new music for two guitars is even more enjoyable. Raymond Tuttle

5 stars: You don't have to live in Aarhus, or even be a Dane, to enjoy these new works inspired by the city's musical clock.

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