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US Magazine Fanfare 1. Review "Each has something interesting and individual to say."

July 14, 2015

Phillip Scott

T. KOPPEL Moonchild's Dream. GUDMUNDSEN-HOLMGREEN Chacun Son Son. RASMUSSEN Territorial Songs • Michala Petri (rec); Henrik Vagn Christensen, cond; Aalbog SO • OUR RECORDINGS 6.220609 (57:01)
This intriguing collection is titled "Danish and Faroese Recorder Concertos". The three works were commissioned and are performed here by Danish recorder virtuoso Michala Petri, on a label set up by her ex-husband Lars Hannibal primarily designed to feature her work. Hannibal was interviewed by Martin Anderson in Fanfare 38:6, where he outlined the background to Our Recordings and touched on his relationship with Petri. It is recommended reading for anyone whose interest is piqued by this release.
Thomas Koppel (1944-2006) was the older brother of Anders, both sons of Herman––all composers. Thomas turned to serious composition after some years in a progressive jazz-rock band, and wrote this concerto for Petri in 1990-91 (the first of three). It is an evocative piece of urban night-music; Koppel's unerring use of orchestral strings, harp, vibraphone and tuned percussion give the music its otherworldly flavor. Petri's recorder floats through these textures (and mainstream 20th century harmonies) in a virtuoso display of pyrotechnics and lyricism. She has recorded the work twice before, according to Hannibal's interview, but was never completely happy with the results. I have one of those recordings at hand for comparison, a 1995 RCA/BMG release that couples Moonchild's Dream with concertos by Arnold, Holmboe, and others. There, Petri is accompanied by Okko Kamu conducting the English Chamber Orchestra. The work seems a little prosaic on the RCA recording, due I think to Kamu's fasters tempos and comparatively dull sound. The sound quality on this new CD is remarkably vivid, and the concerto gains considerably in atmosphere.
Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (b. 1932) is a Danish composer and teacher. One of his pupils was Poul Ruders, and you can hear the influence of the older composer in Ruders' work: both men delight equally in beautiful and ugly sounds, and both seem to share a peculiarly Nordic sense of humor that surreptitiously informs their music. Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's single-movement concerto features bass recorder in the opening and closing passages, and soprano recorder at the work's climax. The soloist is more integral to the texture than standing apart from it; in fact, a violin has a solo cadenza at one point and makes a significant contribution (strongly played here by Yana Deshkova). Growling low brass and percussive thumps punctuate the concerto's progress as the music gradually increases in complexity and volume. This is perhaps the hardest to love of these three pieces, but I have the sneaking feeling that its strength and focus will cause it to remain most firmly in the mind.
Territorial Songs is the most pastoral of the three, even though its orchestration is (again) vivid. Rasmussen (b. 1961) comes from the Faroe Islands, specifically, Sandoy, but even before I read that fact in Joshua Cheek's informative notes I felt an open-air quality to this music. Perhaps the most unusual of the piece's five movements is the fourth, tranquillo, where Petri is required to vocalize as she plays a gentle but wide-ranging melody. There is a great sense of isolation and timelessness at this point. Initially I thought Rasmussen was merely including the effect because Petri was capable of it, but with frequent hearings the contrast between this movement and the others impressed me as a necessary respite, and a strong contribution to the overall structure. The finale, leggiero, brings a sophisticated rethinking of folk music, and phenomenal technical virtuosity from the soloist is again a consistent factor.
Petri's outstanding musicianship is the main selling point of this release, but it is by no means the only one. The orchestra plays extremely well for Christensen, the sound is top notch, and the concertos are more than mere showcases: Each has something interesting and individual to say. Phillip Scott Fanfare, July 2015

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