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US Magazine Fanfare 3. Review ".. these are works of real substance that fascinate and disquiet"

August 14, 2015

Ronald E. Grames

KOPPEL Moonchild’s Dream. GUDMUNDSEN-HOLMGREEN Chacun Son Son. RASMUSSEN Territorial Songs.  Michala Petri (rcr); Henrik Vagn Christensen, cond; Aalborg SO  OUR RECORDINGS 6.220609 (SACD 57:01)

Danish recorder virtuoso Michala Petri recorded Thomas Koppel’s Moonchild’s Dream in 1992 for a 1995 RCA Victor release of contemporary music for recorder and orchestra. Okko Kamu, a too often overlooked artist, conducted. Some may be surprised that Petri, who is still most often associated with Baroque music, released a CD of contemporary works that long ago. In fact, she has been playing new music on the recorder almost as long as she has been playing the instrument. I own a BBC LP from 1977, recorded in 1974, on which, along with the expected works by Jacob Van Eyck and Telemann, is a recording by the then 16-year old virtuoso of Luciano Berio’s Gesti, certainly one of the more avant-garde works for recorder at that time, and a remarkably difficult work to play. There were other works written for her, going back as far as when she was 12, which are discussed in our first interview in Fanfare 37:5. So, contemporary music has been a part of her repertoire from the start, and, as she discusses in the accompanying feature article, she has been building a repertoire of works of the present to keep herself challenged. What is very nice for us is that she now has more freedom to share her interest in new music since she is recording on her own (and lutenist and manager Lars Hannibal’s) label.
The new recording of Moonchild’s Dream results from Petri’s belief that she hadn’t found everything to say about the work in her earlier performances. The appealing score provides the soundtrack for a short film following the life and fantasies of a poor little girl in a war-ravaged Copenhagen. (Presumably, this soundtrack is the first of Petri’s three recordings cited by Lars Hannibal in an interview with Martin Anderson in Fanfare 38:6.) This newer version, with slightly slower tempos, emphasizes the melancholy and longing a bit more than the 1992 reading, at, perhaps, the expense of some charm in the fantasy. To these ears, there is really little to choose between two fine performances, but this is the one currently in print, and the one preferred by the soloist, and it is beautifully recorded.
The other two pieces are new to the catalog. One, the whimsically named Chacun Son Son—a play on À chacun son gout—means loosely To each their own sound. Originally a serialist of the Darmstadt school, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen has long worked in a nominally tonal language stripped of what he calls “the superficial niceties.” Inspired by Samuel Beckett’s plays, and their contemplation of the meaninglessness of life, it might be pretty bleak stuff if it wasn’t for his sense of humor. It is not really even a concerto—Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s further whimsy—but rather a piece with a prominent, but not dominant, role for the recorder: in fact the family of recorders from bass to sopranino, and back. It is still dark, a “long-breathed canon” in which each orchestral choir is given a highly differentiated role. There is labored anticipation, and jazzy restlessness, and eventual chaos, all commented upon by the various recorders, each played in turn by the soloist.
The final work is by Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen. An unconventional concerto, as well, in five continuous sections, Territorial Songs is inspired by nature and by birdsong, and one major purpose of such songs, the defining of territory: nature music of a sometimes aggressive bent. Most of the “niceties” are back, not quite as we are used to hearing them. The recorder is once more clearly the solo instrument. The work demands rhythmic accuracy, often in subtly shifting patterns. One thinks of fractals, though I do not know that there are actually such repetitions in patterns here. There are many moments of uncommon beauty: shimmering strings, icy cold, against which the recorder intones its cry, as well as other sonorities that are quite extraordinary. In the fourth movement, the soloist is asked to play in voiced multiphonics: subtle, delicate, and haunting. It is a masterful work by a composer from whom I hope to hear more.
Henrik Vagn Christensen conducts the very fine Aalborg Symphony Orchestra with what sounds to be clear relish for the idiom. He has previously recorded with Petri, in the very different New Age-ish Palle Mikkelborg Going to Pieces without Falling Apart (OUR Recordings) and in Anders Koppel’s high-spirited and jazzy Concerto for Recorder, Saxophone, and Orchestra (Dacapo). (The later has to be heard, if only to marvel at Petri’s unexpected jazz chops. It is gorgeous music, to boot.) Thomas Koppel, Anders’s older brother, is not overtly jazzy here, but the piece is tonal and easily accessible. The other two works will make some listeners work a bit to come to terms with the challenging styles. In an interview available on YouTube, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen describes himself as an outsider, and that is unarguable. Sunleif Rasmussen is less radical, and there is much in his concerto that is quite unforgettable. Overall, these are works of real substance that fascinate and disquiet, much recommended to those who don’t like all of their musical experiences to be easy. Ronald E. Grames ,August 2015

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