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The Classical Reviewer (UK) - The recording couldn’t be finer, bringing out all the delicate details, textures and colours as well as the dramatic outbursts.

September 18, 2014

Bruce Reader

Fine performances of percussion works by Axel Borup-Jørgensen that really catch the ear on a new release from OUR Recordings.

The composer Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924-2012) was born in Hjørring in Denmark, but grew up in Sweden. It was the countryside and experience of nature of his childhood in Sweden that became a lifelong inspiration to Borup-Jørgensen. He returned to Denmark to study piano at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen and instrumentation with Poul Schierbeck and Jørgen Jersild. He was one of the first Danish composers to go to the Darmstadt School. Borup-Jørgensen's works include music for orchestra, chamber music, songs with piano and other instruments.
I was particularly impressed by OUR Recordings’ release of Borup-Jørgensen’s works for recorder, harpsichord and percussion, when I reviewed it in January 2014.

OUR Recordings have now released a recording entitled The Percussion Universe of Axel Borup-Jørgensen which features percussionist Gert Mortensen together with Tim Frederiksen (viola) , Michala Petri (recorder) , Percurama Percussion Ensemble , Duo Crossfire and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra Brass Quintet.

This new release brings us five of Borup-Jørgensen’s works for percussion and various instruments including no less than three world premiere recordings.

Gert Mortensen is the solo percussionist in Solo, Op.88, written in 1979 and which uses a large assortment of percussion instruments including drums, bells, cymbals, gongs, bottles, a feather and a steel drum to name but a few. A gong stroke quietly opens this piece and fades into silence. A louder gong stoke is heard which, together with drums, creates an immediate effect of drama. There is spaciousness to the sound that gives an aura of distance between the various percussion instruments – a great effect. Add to this the moments of silence and you have a wonderful breadth of vision. The use of various bottles could almost be a tuned percussion instrument. Gert Mortensen uses all these aspects to great effect as he does with all the timbres and colours he extracts from his disparate instruments. Later the music quietens significantly as tiny motifs are picked out, though with contrasting outbursts of drum and cymbal. The notes are allowed to die away naturally with sensitive playing from Mortensen. Eventually a deep, resonant gong heralds a darker atmosphere. There are drum beats and gong sounds that die away before drum beats lead us to the conclusion.
There is a real sense of power and forward movement in this work as well as moments of stillness.

Music for Percussion and Viola, Op.18 brings Tim Frederiksen (viola) and the Percurama Percussion Ensemble conducted by Gert Mortensen. It is the earliest work on this disc, written in the 1950’s for Knud Frederiksen, the father of the soloist on this recording.

The percussion ensemble opens this music, in which little harmonics on the viola can be heard. Soon the viola joins in a more clearly defined passage that is developed into a rising and falling theme pointed up by the percussion. Soon a propulsive, repeated motif is heard that leads into more complex sounds, the viola weaving through the percussion. Soon there is a solo viola passage, quiet and ruminative and often melodic though clearly wrought form the same material. The percussion gently and subtly re-enter as the viola continues to ruminate. There is effective use of a piano within the percussion ensemble as the music becomes ever more fragmented. The viola tries to maintain a melodic element despite the quiet, subtle, fragmented percussion that rises up toward the end, soon joined by the viola, as the music becomes more dynamic to end.

This is a striking work, amazingly performed with terrific accuracy and ensemble. Though an early work, the composer’s later development can be clearly detected.

La Primavera (Spring), Op.97, performed here by Duo Crossfire (Gert Mortensen and Qiao Jia Jia), dates from 1982. There is an exquisitely hushed opening with tinkling bells, hushed metallic taps and marimba creating a ripple of sound. Slowly the sound of a gong emerges which is repeated. There are drum beats and rippling outbursts of sound. This is music of much delicacy, beautifully coloured. There are further sudden outbursts set against moments of great delicacy before another sudden outburst leads to fuller and deeper drum sounds. There are occasional pauses, moments that allow the ear to assimilate what has gone before. What terrific performers this duo are, bringing out so many tiny elements, superbly combined. Later there is a dynamic passage that nevertheless maintains a fine transparency. Soon the deeper, more resonant drums appear, thundering out, suddenly contrasted by the quiet, delicate sounds including xylophone. Eventually the music becomes rather playful with rising and falling scales for xylophone, but cymbal and drum crashes enter, leading to one of the most aggressively dynamic sections of the work. Yet the coda returns to the hushed delicate sounds of the opening as the music fades to silence.

Gert Mortensen (percussion) and Michala Petri (recorder) come together for Periphrasis, Op.156 using the Greek word that can mean derivations of words as a kind of variation or and the use of indirect and circumlocutory speech or writing. Borup-Jørgensen uses musical phrases as a kind of chase between recorder and percussion.

Drums sound out to open this work, soon joined by the recorder playing a single sustained note. This continues until the recorder slowly varies the note. Drums lead forward with the recorder providing a little tune, higher up the range with percussion clashes behind the recorder adding to the dynamics and texture. Michala Petri brings all her customary musicianship and skill to this performance with some simply stunning playing. Mortensen and Petri play off of each other brilliantly with the composer’s subtle sounds of delicate percussion and pure recorder timbres making for some entrancing listening. Eventually a lovely mellow recorder sound arrives, gently pointed up by Mortensen’s subtle percussion, leading to a gentle coda.

Winter Music, Op.113.1 is for the unusual combination of percussion and brass quintet, performed here by Gert Mortensen (percussion) and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra Brass Quintet. Written between 1981 and 1084, it is a description of a particularly hard winter season with the percussionist playing a distinctively separate role to the brass ensemble, almost as a duet.

Drum beats open this piece, with subtle brass sounds underlying the drums. Soon the brass ensemble breaks out with phrases that are heard between the dynamic percussion sounds. Eventually, as the piece progresses, the brass ensemble and percussion sound as though they are about to combine, but throughout they continue to make their own way. Eventually the percussionist’s role becomes pretty dynamic with brass intoning longer phrases. The brass quintet continue to provide a firm, more dynamic sound that begins to rival the percussion, becoming an equal force as the music is fully unleashed. The music quietens as both percussion and brass tentatively move forward with short phrases. A gong sounds to bring about the coda that leaves us with the sound of the gong fading to silence.

This is another fine performance from Gert Mortensen with the DNSO Brass Quintet in a work that is enormously descriptive of winter’s harsh extremes.

These really are fine performances of works that really catch the ear and provide many entrancing moments. The recording couldn’t be finer, bringing out all the delicate details, textures and colours as well as the dramatic outbursts.

There are excellent booklet notes on the composer, music and artists.
Posted by Bruce Reader at 08:12

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