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CD News

Volume: 10
Sider: 20 - 27
Ophav: Knud Ketting
Udgiver: NOMUS

A new series of portrait CDs from the Iceland Music Information Centre is to be welcomed very warmly. A great deal of care and unconventional thinking has obviously gone into the preparation of the Karolina Eiriksdóttir CD: instead of choosing the already existing studio recording of her Sinfonietta (1985), the CD features a much more intense though somewhat cough-ridden live performance conducted by Jean-Pierre Jacquillat, and the booklet note is very unusual, starting off with an interesting essay on music as the most incomprehensible of arts and
only slowly getting round to Karolina. One of the very best works on the CD is a NOMUS commission, the song cycle Land Possessed by Poems (1988), very well sung by Iceland’s internationally famous baritone Kristinn Sigmundsson, unfortunately somewhat handicapped by a too distant recording. Altogether, both the recording quality and the technical command of the players involved can seem variable, but never to the point of giving you any doubts about the enthusiasm of the musicians or the very high quality of the music itself (ITM 7-01, 72 min.).

As a portrait of Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson (born 1938) this CD is very representative in a certain way. It contains seven pieces for solo instruments or small groups of instruments written between 1970 and 1982, thus illustrating an important feature of Thorkell’s production: he is always ready to supply a musician with a new piece for this or that occasion, and it will often be a piece of high quality. It seems a pity, though, completely to leave out his substantial orchestral output, not to speak of his songs and choral music. Standards of recording technique and performance give no reason for complaint, and it is worth mentioning that all the performers involved (including such outstanding musicians as flutist Manuela Wiesler and composer-cellist Hafliði Hallgrimsson) have given permission to use these recordings without remuneration. But there would still be room for another portrait CD with more of his colourful music (Iceland Music Information Centre, ITM 7-02, 65 min).

Áshildur Haraldsdóttir was born in Reykjavik in 1965. She started playing the flute at the age of five and graduated from the Reykjavik Conservatory when she was seventeen. She continued her musical training in the US at the New England Conservatory and the Juilliard School of Music, from which she graduated in 1988. Her partner on this CD, Love Derwinger, was born in Norrköping, Sweden, in 1966. His musical abilities were discovered at an early age. When he was 15, Derwinger left his home town in order to be able to attend the Academy of Music in Stockholm. In 1987 he performed his graduation concert: Brahms’ First Piano Concerto with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Berwald Hall, Stockholm. This joint recording debut by these two outstanding Nordic musicians was made last July at the Gothenburg Concert Hall and features a somewhat short, but very well chosen selection of well-known and rare French music written within the last 100 years. Only the printed documentation leaves something to be desired: quite apart from bad proof-reading (even affecting one of the titles), one piece is misnamed (Fauré’s Morceau de lecture) and its year of composition is left out (Intim Musik IMCD 009, 56 min.)

This is an exact reproduction of an LP from 1982 with works dedicated to the outstanding Norwegian oboe player Brynjar Hoff. The only difference is that Folke Strømholm’s very thorough notes have been cut down to a bare minimum – only to leave four blank pages in the CD booklet! The reissue is sponsored by the Norwegian Society of Composers, of which not only the four composers represented on the CD but also Strømholm
are members. Did they really make that decision? (Aurora ACD 4965, 52 min.).

The Norwegian organ works on this CD are all based on vocal music, such as folk tunes,
chorales or Gregorian melodies. Musically they range from late romanticism to moderate modernism. All six composers (Kverno, Kjeldaas, Sandvold, Am, Karlsen and Mørk Karlsen) have been or are organists, and organ music more or less dominates their production. The music was beautifully recorded at Ullern church by the highliy talented Kåre Nordstoga, who in addition to his solo career is assistant organist at Oslo Cathedral and teaches at the Oslo Academy of Music (Aurora Contemporary ACD 4928, 69 min.).

Arvid Kleven (1899-1929) is a Norwegian composer that you will not be able to look up in the New Grove or other standard music dictionaries, the main reason being that he died so young and therefore wrote so little. The symphonic poem Lotus Land (1922) was his debut, written after a stay in Paris and with a distinct French flavour to it. The Sleeping Forest (1923) combines colourful instrumentation with Russian-sounding cantilena, whereas the Violin Sonata (1925) is a virtuoso piece written in the classical sonata form.
Without being sumptuous, the performances will give you a good feeling of the music (Simax PSC 3106, 62 min.).

Kirsten Flagstad sang Norwegian songs from the very beginning to the very end of her long career. A new CD from EMI (CDH 7 63305 2, 71 min.) contains no less than 22 songs (16 of them by Grieg) recorded between 1923, when she was only 28 years old, and 1948, when she was still in full possession of her unique voice. The transfers are very well made and this issue is recommended to all lovers of beautiful singing. It has two songs in common with a new anthology from SIMAX (PSC 1808, 74 min.) where no less than 20 different Norwegian
singers are heard in 27 Norwegian songs, recorded between 1925 and 1955 (with no exact recording dates given). Some of the artists involved had international careers as opera singers, and made beautiful (Norena, Nordmo Løvberg) or awful (Graarud, Andresen) romance recordings as well. Some of them had only local or Scandinavian careers and deserved to be more widely heard (Hendriksen, Prytz). Both issues have useful introductions in English and texts in Norwegian; EMI also offers English translations of the texts.

This CD represents a reissue of a four year old LP whose material has been supplemented by a very good recording of a quintet for alto saxophone and string quartet from 1988. It was written for the brilliant young Swedish saxophone player Jörgen Pettersson. The composer, Csaba Deåk, was born in 1932 in Budapest. He moved to Sweden in 1957 and continued his studies as a private pupil of Hilding Rosenberg. Viv ax is the title of the only orchestral piece on the CD. It was written in 1982 and recorded in Deåk’s old country, Hungary, by Budapest Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrås Ligeti. Some of its material was inspired by the Hungarian gypsy style, and the recording is certainly impressive (Phono Sueciae PSCD 32, 54 min.).

In 1286 the Danish king Erik Klipping was betrayed and assassinated. Since he had long been at odds with a faction of the nobility led by the earl marshal, Stig Andersen, the latter was accused of the crime and outlawed. Their antagonism later became the subject of a well-known Danish opera, King and Earl Marshal by Peter Heise, who sees the king’s seduction of Stig’s wife as a reason for Stig’s vengeance. This has no basis in historical fact. Neither does history relate that Stig and his wife had the two daughters whose miserable vagrant existence forms part of a play by Ludvig Josephson, premiered at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm on March 19, 1866, with music by August Söderman. Söderman wrote 12 musical numbers, a couple of them based on the old Danish ballad about Marshal Stig’s daughters. The new Musica Sveciae recording is to be commended for putting the music in its proper dramatic context, using no less than eight actors recorded in the very theatre where the original premiere took place. There is no denying that the atmosphere remains somewhat artificial despite the efforts of the actors; but rather that than to have this beautiful music totally out of context (Musica Sveciae MSCD 513, 53 min.).

The first anthology from the recently established Swedish string orchestra Musica Vitae only comprised music from Sweden and Finland. This second one happily combines music from all five Nordic countries, spanning a period of the last hundred years or so, the oldest piece being the Two Elegiac Melodies by Grieg, and the most recent a beautiful Siciliano from Columbine for flute and strings (1982) by Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson. Manuela Wiesler adds her very considerable talent to the competent string playing under the direction of Wojciech Rajski (BIS-CD-461, 69 min.).

The Swedish composer Dag Wiren (1905-86) was gradually to change his style from witty neo-classicism into something much more concentrated, even austere. One of his few excursions into full-blooded romanticism is his Violin Concerto from 1946, written under the influence of Sibelius. It is the main attraction on this well-filled, well-played, and well-recorded portrait CD. Prospective buyers might miss his most popular composition, the String Serenade (1937) which is, however, available in a number of other recordings (Caprice CAP 21326, 58 min.).

Bengt Hallberg (b. 1932) is by now one of the veterans of Swedish jazz, both as a pianist and as a composer. His suite Spring On The Air, written for the Swedish Radio Jazz Group, features some of Sweden’s best known jazz talents such as saxophone player Arne Domnérus, trombone player Ulf Johansson, and guitarist Rune Gustafsson, as well as Hallberg himself as band leader and pianist. The recording took place at a Stockholm concert in 1987 in front of a remarkably quiet audience. Strongly recommended (Phono Sueciae PSCD 51, 58 min.).

“These are the best percussionists in the world,” the San Francisco Chronicle said of the Kroumata Ensemble from Sweden. “The world’s leading marimba player,” the Kroumata musicians say of Keiko Abe from Japan. Their joint concerts during the Scandinavia Music Today festival in Japan in the autumn of 1987 were very successful indeed, and so is their first joint recording with five very good contemporary Japanese pieces, among them Rin-sai written by Akira Miyoshi (b. 1933) for Scandinavia Music Today (BIS-CD-462, 58 min.).

Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792) could be said to have written the first chapter in the history of the Swedish string quartet. He was a contemporary of Mozart, almost to the exact year, but his music sounds much more like Haydn. He wrote at least ten string quartets of which the Lysell Quartet has made a selection of four for this CD. For some reason they have decided to play one, and one only, on period instruments – not that it makes much difference, because their playing remains more or less in the style associated with playing classical music on modern instruments (Musica Sveciae MSCD 414, 70 min.).

The highly talented Finnish flute player Mikael Helasvuo (b. 1948) studied in Helsinki, Prague, and Freiburg before beginning his musical career with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
in 1973. He held the position of solo flute with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1976 to 1988, and is joined by his old orchestra in this newest recording featuring three very different solo concertos by outstanding Finnish composers, written between 1979 and 1985. In his own words, Einar Englund’s concerto is conceived as a drama whereas Erik Bergman’s and Usko Meriläinen’s pieces are more ornamental (Finlandia FACD 385, 58 min.). If you should prefer a reminder of Helasvuo’s gifts in more classical surroundings, his beautiful Mozart CD with the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra conducted by Juha Kangas (nominated for this year’s Nordic Music Prize) might be just the right idea (BIS-CD-368, 57 min.).

Here we have two extremely talented Nordic string soloists moving in opposite directions. On a new Finlandia CD (FACD 390, 66 min.) double bass-player Jorma Kastrama shows that he can hold his own against any cello or violin player when playing showpieces by composers like Monti, Rimsky-Korsakov, or Pa-ganini. Contrariwise, cellist Peter Schuback (Phono Sueciae PSCD 45, 76 min.) has been concentrating on contemporary music for a couple of decades, and he features a series of new Swedish pieces, mostly written for him, on his new CD. The last piece he wrote himself in 1989, recording it as a premiere performance in a single take of 18 minutes. It is called Vers La Fin (Approaching the End) and explores the whole register of the instrument, from the high, piercing notes at the beginning to the final, sighing fragments. Schuback has written the liner notes and painted the cover picture as well!

This CD is as good a proof as any of the fact that the Finnish male choir tradition is still very
much alive. The Polytech Choir was founded in 1904, but all the works here recorded were written in the 1980s, quite a few of them as actual commissions from the choir. Some of them, such as the three Salmenhaara songs to Runeberg texts, have a decidedly Sibelian flavour; others, like Tiensuu’s Tokko for male choir and tape, are much more avantgardist pieces (Ondine ODE 743-2, 52 min.).

While we are waiting for the new BIS recording of Nielsen’s chamber music for strings (four quartets and one quintet), DG has a tempting proposition: 154 minutes of chamber music by Nielsen on two medium price CDs. This is, in certain ways, quite a bargain. The set includes an exemplary introductory note by David Fanning. There is nothing wrong, either, with the way the Carl Nielsen String Quartet from Denmark tries to play the music in these reissued recordings from the 1970s. It has to be admitted, however, that their technical command does not always allow for impeccable results. Neither is the woodwind quintet from the Esbjerg Ensemble (or Vestjysk Chamber Ensemble, as it was called at the time of the recording) a virtuoso group. But here the sincerity of their playing seems more appropriate to the unique character of Nielsen’s Wind Quintet than more seamless performances from groups of greater fame (DG 431 156-2, 2 CDs).

Unfortunately the enterprising Danish record company Kontrapunkt seems to have a problem with the documentation for its otherwise well produced CDs. On this chamber music issue featuring seven interesting works by the Danish composer Ib Nør-holm (b. 1931), it is neither possible to find out exactly who is playing what, nor when the music was written. Both musically and technically the CD is so good, however, that it really deserves a corrected leaflet (Kontrapunkt 32065, 66 min.).

The Finnish composer and musician Timo-Juhani Kyllönen (b. 1955) has a more cosmopolitan background than some of his countrymen. He was educated in Sweden until the age of 18, and then went to the Soviet Union for his formal musical training because at that time the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki did not offer courses in his instrument, the accordion. He was accepted by the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire for postgraduate studies as a composer, and had his first symphony premiered by the Novosibirsk Symphony Orchestra under Arnold Katz in 1986. Most of his compositions until now have been chamber or choral works. On this CD only chamber music is represented, but substantially so with a very generous amount of playing time. The composer himself is heard in a strongly expressive but somewhat lengthy trio for accordion, violin, and cello (Op 9, 1986). Some of the other pieces seem more concentrated, and Kyllönen’s career will undoubtedly be one to watch with interest (Finlandia FACD 377, 75 min.).

Dacapo is the recently established, state-supported anthology of Danish music on CD. The label is apparently still finding it difficult to describe its products properly. For instance, a prospective English speaking buyer of this CD with music by Per Nørgård would not be able to detect from the cover that “Voyage into the Golden Screen” was recorded live, nor that the opera “Gilgamesh” is sung in Swedish. This opera won the Nordic Council music prize in 1974. It was written with support from Nomus to be premiered at the Opera School in Stockholm, but apparently proved too difficult for the students. Instead it had its first performance in Denmark by the enterprising Jutland Opera Company in 1973. The recording was made by the Swedish Radio later that year with Támas Vetö conducting Swedish and Danish soloists supported by the admirable choir and orchestra of the Swedish Radio. It certainly seems worth this CD reissue, coupled with one of Nørgård’s best orchestral works in a good performance by the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Oliver Knussen (Dacapo DCCD 9001, 2 CDs, 121 min.).

The Kontra Quartet, named after its leader Anton Kontra, is at present functioning as the Danish State Chamber Music Ensemble. This gives the four musicians an opportunity to concentrate completely on their chamber music thanks to a substantial government grant. Their responsibilities also include making recordings, but this particular CD is a reissue of a 1984 LP from Danish RCA. It never had the wide circulation that these string quartets by Hans Abrahamsen and Poul Ruders undoubtedly deserve. Let us hope, then, that the CD will receive much better distribution, the more so because the Abrahamsen works in particular have been a distinct success when played by the Kontra Quartet on its international tours (Dacapo DCCD 9006, 57 min.).

Somebody at Dacapo must have thought that the name of the Arditti String Quartet would sell a lot more copies than the names of the two Danish composers, Karl Aage Rasmussen and Bent Sørensen, whose music they perform on this double CD. This may be right or wrong, but it certainly does not imply that the Arditti musicians do not put all their energy and determination into these five string quartets, all of which were written within the last decade. “I have never seen anything like it,” says Karl Aage Rasmussen in the liner notes. “It was amazing for me how they went on playing with incredible physical presence … I was not only thrilled but touched by their loyalty to the work.” In his leaflet notes, the English music writer (and composer) Peter Paul Nash declares himself as one of those who believe in the existence of a special Danish “sound,” and also claims that “there is something in its expressive quality that goes especially well with the medium of the string quartet.” The recordings were made by the Danish radio and are of very high quality (Dacapo DCCD 9003, 2 CDs for the price of one, 83 min.).