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Second 5 stars review in Fanfare (US)

March 22, 2024

Colin Clarke

5 stars review
IN TIME  Aros Gtr Duo  OUR RECORDINGS SACD 8.226919 (58:12)
BUUR In the Spring. LOHSE Ver. BRUUN Dark is November. ZWICKI In Time. FRANDSEN Rollercoaster. SIEGEL Vernalls Breakdown.

There are no fewer than six World Premiere recordings on this fabulously recorded SACD from the Aros Guitar Duo (comprising Simon Wildau and Mikkel Egelund). As always with this label, presentation is faultless, with lavishly illustrated, detailed booklet.
All works were composed between 2018 and 2021, and the disc is programmed so as to present a multi-composer “suite” in six “movements”. The project is also conceived as an homage to the Dabish city of Aarhus (“Aros” is the Old Norse name for Aarhus). Part of the inspiration here is the historic bell tower of Aarhus’ City Hall, which on the hour plays In vernalis temporis (In the Springtime, composed around 1500 by Morten Børup; a Danish text was added in 1895). This is the musical thread that runs through the program, and to tighten the associations, Borup was headmaster at Aarhus Cathedral School, later attended by present guitarist Simon Wildau.
The vernal journey begins with In the Spring (in Danish, “I foråret”,2018) by Asger Agerskov Buur (born 1988). In a further acknowledgement of the tight organization of this program, Buur studied composition with two of the other featured composers, Rasmus Zwicki and John Frandsen; he also studied cello. Børup's melody has a timeless aspect, and Buur mirrors this in an underlying stasis (despite an active surface) and Minimalist tendencies. Minimalism needs highly skilled performers to succeed, and the sheer exactitude of the Aros Guitar Duo's execution is near-miraculous. It casts its own spell over this listener, at least this one; it is as if the pure beauty of Buur’s music intensifies throughout, sustained by his craftsmanship.
Born in 1971, Martin Lohse (not to be confused with Frederick Lohse, 1908-1987, who appears elsewhere in the Fanfare Archive), studied with Hans Abrahamsen at the Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. His Ver is inspired by lines from In vernalis temporis that refer to the rays of the sun gathering “as a wreath / in the drops of the morning dew”. While there is a circularity to the musical material that might be heard to mirror Buur’s repetitions, there is more dynamism here. Writing for two guitars as one super-instrument, the music’s effect is of a rotating kaleidoscope, interrupted by In vernalis temporis at the work’s center. The Aros Guitar Duo premiered Ver on May 23, 2019; it is one of four works by Lohse for two guitars (the others are Fast Track, Passing, and Menuetto). The freshness of Ver reflects the “sprouting Spring” (the composer’s words).
Unlike Buur and Lohse, Aarhus-born Peter Bruun (born 1968) has appeared in Fanfare’s august pages previously: his 2 Scenes with Skylark on Michala Petri’s disc The Nightingale (also on OUR Recordings: Fanfare 35:4) and Omveje (Detours) for flute and guitar on Towards the Sea by the Takemitsu Duo (24:1). The title comes from the lyrics used the first time Bruun actually sand the town carillon (“Dark is November, and leaf fall has ended”). Although now, as an organist, he plays it with a Spring text in the appropriate season, he November darkness remains in his core. In Dark is November, he takes the takes us on a journey from dark to ringing, resonant light (enhanced by retuning one of the guitars).
Educated both in Denmark and at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Rasmus Zwicko (born 1979) often takes a multidisciplinary approach to his work. His In Time, from which the disc takes its title, finds two guitarists playing the same two pages of music over and over; much as one encounters Spring every year, the same season, but it changes in some way every time. Here, Zwicki asks for each repetition to be slower than the previous one, while fragments of the disc’s foundational melody come in and out of focus. Eventually (“in time ...”), only single notes are left, in echo; and finally, the melody itself is “lost in time”. Highly atmospheric and beautiful, While the piece is about time, it often hovers as if supra-temporal. The performance is miraculously unhurried from the Aros Duo, who honor Zwicki’s individual world perfectly.
I found myself fascinated by Sisyfos by John Frandsen (born 1956) in Fanfare 45:3 (a disc entitled Anytime and performed by Duo Diagonal). Another Aalborg-born composer, Frandsen studied with Abrahamsen and Rasmussen at the Royal Academy of Music in his hometown. The composer describes Rollercoaster as “virtuoso,” so the extended passages of slower beauty might come as a surprise. A steady pulse pervades, and snippets of the disc’s melody surface from time to time. If the title brings (as to my mind) parallels with A Short Ride in a Fast Machine, think again. Rollercoaster this might be, but it is a remarkably pensive one, one that invites appreciation of the surrounding scenery as opposed to asking the listener to hold on for dear life. The beauty of guitar harmonics, brilliantly rendered, adds timbral variety. A lovely piece that only in its later stages brings in heady roulades. When overt virtuosity arrives, it is spellbinding, clearly playing to the Aros Guitar Duo’s forte.
Finally, a piece by a composer represented several times previously on the Archive: Wayne Siegel (born 1953), an expat American who has studied with the great Per Nørgård. His Vernalis Breakdown is a blues-tinged, banjo-echoing “encore”. Siegel took up Bluegrass banjo at the tender age of 65, aiming at Earl Scruggs’ “fast and furious style” (try, for example, Peking Fling from Scruggs’ 1973 album Dueling Banjos). The composer makes the rather obvious statement that “bluegrass banjo players are rather few and far between in Denmark,” and so he learned from an online course. The “breakdown” part of the title refers to that part of a Bluegrass piece when different players are given solo opportunities, or “breaks”. The collision of the hourly ceremonial of the carillon and the far less disciplined world of Bluegrass is fascinating. The composer writes that Bluegrass has brought him “a lot of fun,” and Aros Guitar Duo seems to have a ball, too. Siegel’s piece may surely also be seen as a gateway drug to Bluegrass proper (have a listen to Scrugg’s Dueling Banjos, or Flatt and Scruggs’ album Town and Country, perhaps).
Incidentally, the OUR back cover and back booklet listings add an apostrophe to the title (Vernalis’), but not the booklet notes themselves; neither does Siegel’s own website.
This disc represents perfectly OUR Recordings’ exalted standards, its program cogent, its performances beyond compare. Recommended, and a potential Want List candidate. Colin Clarke

Five stars: In Time represents OUR Recordings’ exalted standards, offering performances beyond compare

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