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Music Web International - Topped by Michala Petri’s virtuosity, no fan of modern music and the crisp transparency of this ‘northern sound’ should hesitate in adding it to their collection.

October 2, 2015

Dominy Clements

Nordic Sound - Tribute to Axel Borup-Jørgensen
Bent SØRENSEN (b.1958)
Whispering - Hommage á Axel Borup-Jørgensen for recorder and strings [10:16] (2014)
Music for 13 strings - For Axel “Boje” (2014) [13:17]
Sunleif RASMUSSEN (b.1961)
Winter Echoes - Hommage á Axel Borup-Jørgensen for recorder and 13 solo strings (2014) [11:19]
Mogens CHRISTENSEN (b.1955)
Nordic Summer Scherzo Concerto for descant recorder and strings (2014) [9:52]
Thomas CLAUSEN (b.1949)
Concertino for recorder and strings (2014) [12:33]
Axel BORUP-JØRGENSEN (1924-2012)
Sommasvit op. 24 for String Orchestra (1957) [11:18]
Michala Petri (recorder)
Lapland Chamber Orchestra/Clemens Schuldt
rec. no details given
OUR RECORDINGS 6.220613 SACD [69:12]
Axel Borup-Jørgensen was one of Denmark’s most significant 20th century composers, with an extensive and influential catalogue of works including music for orchestra, chamber pieces and numerous songs. Not long after his death, producer and co-founder of Our Recordings Lars Hannibal met with the composer’s daughter, recorder player Elisabet Selin, to talk about how to preserve and promote her father’s music. This recording is one of a number of projects and a particularly important one for Michala Petri, a longtime family friend and like a “second daughter” to Axel. Other recordings of Borup-Jørgensen’s music released by Our Recordings are of his Recorder Music with Elisabet Selin on Our Recordings 8.226910 and The Percussion Universe of Axel Borup Jørgensen with Gert Mortensen on Our Recordings SACD 6.220608.

Bent Sørensen’s music “is characterized by his focus on minute details of sound and texture”, and in its soft sound levels his piece Whispering encourages us to do the same. Written as a homage to Axel Borup-Jørgensen, the title relates to Axel’s quiet manner of speech. The longer periods in which the recorder’s interplay with the upper strings creates an air of expectation means that the rare appearance of harmony and lower notes are all the more telling. Landscapes are referred to, but this is landscape in a moment in which as much is hidden as can be seen. The final ‘sotto-voce’ three and half minutes or so are truly magical.

Pelle Gudmunson-Holmgreen is the senior member of the living composers in this programme, and one who went through the influences of Sibelius and Nielsen in his early years before breaking out via Darmstadt serialism. This, too, was a long time ago, though while the Music for 13 strings. For Axel “Boje” is by no means serialist there is a strong pull against tonality and the delivery of plenty of angst-ridden explosiveness. The angular nature of the music leads to a highly theatrical character in the work. Its episodic nature results in clear ‘scenes’, and the whole has the strength to carry a potent narrative the listeners can fill in for themselves. ‘Boje’ is the nickname given to Axel by his family, but this I suspect is a work that responds more to its dedicatee’s force of creativity, “as an admirer of his art” rather than as a realistic character reference. There are moments of humour and some moments of more tender reflection towards the end, but this is more of a monument than a mirror – and striking in its power to make us remember it as something vast and symphonically seething despite its strings-only instrumentation.

Sunleif Rasmussen’s Winter Echoes adds recorder solo to eight string players from the Lapland Chamber Orchestra, in a journey from dark to light through changes in solo instrument from bass recorder to sopranino. The first section or movement is a spiky and energetic toccata, the driving rhythmic ostinato of which eventually gives way to a slower paced leggiero over which the recorder’s high notes slide and speak with preening aloofness. The resolution is slower still, the recorder eventually abandoned to its own devices by the silent strings.

From winter to a Nordic Summer Scherzo by Mogens Christensen, who takes some notes from piano pieces by Borup-Jørgensen, integrating them into a piece that is inspired by Swedish culture and that country’s ‘midnight sun’, both of which held Axel’s affection. With some multiphonic effects from the recorder and a feel of narrative development, this is an impressively theatrical and wide-ranging work that nods to Sibelius along the way. The composer sought to “create a dialogue between noisy sounds and small fragments of melodies”, and while there can be no argument about this there is also a great deal of fun to be had along the way.

Thomas Clausen’s background in jazz sees him inhabiting a more recognisably tonal world in his Concertino for recorder and strings. Baroque models are referred to, sonata and rondo forms are used, and connections with Bach, Mozart and Grieg emerge. The second Largo movement is a lovely aria for the recorder, and the third provides dramatic contrast in its turbulent accents and restless cadences. This was originally planned as a three-movement work, but Michala Petri easily persuaded Clausen to add a final fast movement which turned out as ‘a private tribute to Mozart’, the composer’s “all time hero.”

The last word in this programme is given to Axel Borup-Jørgensen in his Sommasvit op. 24 for string orchestra. From 1957 this is considered an early work, the title being Swedish for ‘Sommen Suite’, referring to a large lake area in the province of Småland with which the composer was familiar as a child. In five movements the work describes the arc of a day, from a suspenseful Morgon to a stormy Natt, with a calm concluding Epilog with which to round everything off. Everything here is suggestive rather than explicit, and the imagination is allowed to roam around an intimate inner landscape rather than specific descriptive depictions. The mood is dark, lonely and impassive, and even the driving rain of the nocturnal storm strikes against stone and slaps against wood rather than threatening any kind of human presence. With the final brief movement we are left haunted by this seemingly untouched and indifferent region.

Superbly recorded in detailed and colourful SACD sonics, this is a release which oozes affection for Axel Borup-Jørgensen and is a wonderful snapshot of Nordic contemporary music in the five world premiere pieces composed in his honour. Topped by Michala Petri’s virtuosity, no fan of modern music and the crisp transparency of this ‘northern sound’ should hesitate in adding it to their collection. Dominy Clements October 2015

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