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BACH-coverfron-sRGB.jpg 3 times 5 stars (Max)

August 31, 2015

John Miller

This is the third disc of a series of tributes to Axel Borup-Jørgensen, the Danish composer, producer and co-founder of OUR Recordings, who continue to make SACD discs. Borup-Jørgensen died in 2012. His daughter organised a programme of tributes, mainly by Danish composers, artists and musicians. The so-called "Queen of the Recorder", Michala Petri, as a long-time family friend, also took part in a number of disc programmes, and she does so in this issue, in which she joins five comissioned Nordic composers who added their own personal tributes to the much-loved Borup-Jørgensen in a programme entitled "Nordic Sound", which finished with one of his own pieces.

Most of the new pieces are scored in each composer's view of "Modernism", an ill-defined term at best. Only one piece, Thomas Clausen's Concerto for Recorder and Strings, is fully tonal and beautifully melodic. The other pieces were crafted in various types of atonalism and post-Stravinsky rhythms, which challenge listeners who are more used to Classical or Romantic music full of melodies. These pieces also demand great effort from the musicians, who are often asked to produce unusual sounds from their instruments. Axel Borup-Jørgensen himself was a meticulous modernist, who followed a distinctive path of his own. His works exude intense nature mysticism, musically portraying such phenomena as stark outlines of barren trees, blinding sunbursts, or sudden storms. The Nordic composers followed these traits in creating their tributes.

The Lapland Chamber Orchestra (founded 1972) is in a way parallel to the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra in the south of Finland. Its home is Roviniemi in Lapland, which lies some way NNE of the northern end of the Gulf of Bothnia, and it is the furthest north professional orchestra in the European Union. The LCO has engagements around the Arctic region and Finland, but also has played in many venues abroad. One of its specialities is giving premieres of leading contemporary composers, which is why it was chosen for this recording.

Clemens Schuldt is said to be one of the most exciting young conductors emerging from Germany. His training as a violinist under Marcus Stenz at the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Paavo Järvii is a very good background for working with string orchestras such as the LCO.

The liner notes have extensive and detailed descriptions about each contributing composer, beginning with a brief biography and an indication of how various personal aspects and distilled musical habits of Borup-Jørgensen himself inspired their tribute piece. Fascinating though this is, I would suggest listening to the disc before reading the liner notes; in this way your imagination will satisfyingly generate your own visions and emotions from the music. A good example of this importance of listening without prejudice is the first track, by Bent Sørensen (b.1958) and titled 'Whispering for Recorder and Strings'. For me, arising from silence, a hushed, shimmering set of high strings, swirls like chill mist in a Nordic wood. The recorder softly joins in, making rhythmic calls suggesting those of a Shaman chanting his magic... and so on. For me, this atmospheric piece suggested a magical woodland, full of dreams and sadness, not unlike Sibelius's Tapiola. But the liner notes tell me that Sørensen was inspired by Borup-Jørgensen's very soft and fragile way of speaking; in later life he almost always spoke in an intimate hushed whisper on the threshold of silence. This is interesting, but no help in interpretation.

Sonically, this disc is a marvel, capturing the timbre of strings stretched to their limit in unusual textures and bowing other parts of the instruments than the strings; the orchestra's stamping vivid rhythms on the floor, and the full gamut of recorders from bass to sopranino, often playing harmonics. The venue was a "new" concert hall in Rovaniemi, the Culture House, which strikingly is a simple elongated rectangular box (bringing the Golden Hall in Vienna to mind, which is famed for its acoustics). Its walls and roof are varnished wooden planks, with some evidence of control of reverberation. Several colour photos show a session on the stage, with a high 5.0 microphone array behind the conductor and a couple of spot mics. These pick up the hall's warm, intimate ambience. Capture was in DXD, transferred to DSD for the SACD. Production, mastering and mixing was by Preben Iwan, an engineer very frequently working for DaCapo.

This is a fascinating collection of recorded premières of modern music from five Nordic composers, brilliantly played by the Chamber Orchestra of Lapland together with the sympathy and virtuosity of Michala Petri's recorder playing, which she so beautifully merges into the string sound, setting her recorder to sing forth in Clausen's Concerto for Recorder and Strings. Well worth exploring if you have even the slightest interest in Nordic modernism, virtuoso string playing, or recorder music.

Copyright © 2015 John Miller and
Performance: 5 Stars, Sonics (Stereo):5 Stars, Sonics (Multichannel):5 stars

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