all reviews
currently showing records for:
Michala Petri, recorder
Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra
American Recorder Concertos
Any serious collector of contemporary concertos would be foolish to pass this one up
David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare USA
05 April 2019
Michala Petri has been playing recorder for all but the first two of her 61 years, and has had about the most distinguished career I suppose it is possible to have short of playing an instrument such as piano or violin that possesses a huge repertory. Her recording career extends well back into the LP era, and she has been presented on major labels such as Philips and RCA. Petri has not been content with the relatively limited concerto repertory for her instrument and has commissioned, performed, and recorded dozens of works from major composers all over the globe. James Altena and Raymond Tuttle, for instance, both reviewed a disc of English recorder concertos in 36:1, and there are at least 90 other reviews of her playing to be found in the Fanfare archive.
This Danish artist has turned to four American composers for the present recital, three of whom have written music I’ve known and loved for years. Only the fourth, Sean Hickey, is a new discovery for me, and an important one. The disc opens with Prelude, Habanera, and Perpetual Motion, a recorder concerto by Roberto Sierra, a composer who is increasingly becoming one of my favorite living composers. The work began its life originally in a version for recorder and guitar, a combination particularly favored by Petri. In fitting the work in its present orchestral garb, the composer has retained a quasi-guitar feeling through significant use of pizzicato in the strings and certain effects in the percussion. Its light scoring allows the recorder to shine in prominence throughout the work. The opening movement calls for many melismas, and is followed by a dark and mysterious habanera that takes the recorder up into the piccolo range on occasion. I had rather forgotten that the instrument (in its soprano family member) could play that high. The last movement features a constant stream of notes from both soloist and ensemble structured into groups of 3+3+2, a grouping commonly found in Latin American music. Throughout the work, Sierra’s imaginative sonorities and harmonies are on full display, and his writing always carries the listener inexorably forward to an exciting conclusion. Along the way, some extremely quick double-tonguing is demanded from the soloist.
The harmonic language of Steven Stucky in his recorder concerto, Etudes, is similar to that of Sierra, but the two pieces do not at all resemble each other on textural or structural grounds. The Stucky work is conceived in rather improvisatory fashion, eschewing much in the way of formal structure. It also features fairly wide use of special effects such as pitch bends, flutter tongue, mutes (in the orchestral instruments: I doubt it is possible to mute a recorder), and the like. Given the pitch bends, the work bears a good bit of resemblance to music I’ve heard (and written) for Native American flute, where such things are the norm rather than the exception. These also serve to give the piece a haunting quality that is usually absent from most recorder works. The Concerto concludes with a frenetic movement, featuring irregular sequences of notes from both solo instrument and ensemble, punctuated by interjections from instruments such as xylophone and temple blocks. This may be my favorite movement on the disc, and is certainly one of the most intricate and tricky to execute.
Anthony Newman’s Concerto eschews all but five instruments in the ensemble, as he restricts the accompanimental forces to a harpsichord (played by the composer) and string quartet. Readers with good memories will recall my very positive reviews of this composer’s (not quite) complete works, and subsets thereof (including a set of his Symphonies) in several reviews. The present work lives up to the high standard he demands of himself, and this ebullient and bubbly work is sheer delight from beginning to end. Newman has carved out his own niche in the American music scene, in that no one else is writing (and likely could write) music like this. He is, in short, the sui generis neo-Baroque composer of our time, and this work is a classic example of this style. Its four movements include “Toccata,” a note-infused busy exercise, “Devil’s Dance,” a tongue-in-cheek bouncy affair, “Lament,” in which Newman bridles his jocularity in favor of a simple and direct soulful song, and the zany “Furie.”
As I mentioned earlier, Sean Hickey is the new discovery for me on the present CD. His music is colorful, extremely well-orchestrated, and full of imagination and life. His A Pacifying Weapon, a substantial (half-hour) concerto for recorder and ensemble of winds, percussion, and harp, is the first combination of such forces I can recall encountering. Because this very performance has been reviewed in previous issues of Fanfare by Ronald Grames, Robert Carl, and Raymond Tuttle, all in 41:1, and by Colin Clarke (twice: also in 42:5), I need not re-invent a wheel that has so capably been created and treated (why is one of those words three syllables and the other only two?) by my colleagues. Suffice it to say that Hickey does an exceedingly good job in keeping forces that could easily overpower a recorder from doing so, and writing a work for a solo instrument that sounds like none other I’ve heard. I was greatly impressed by it and will be on the lookout for more music by this Detroit-born composer.
Michala Petri’s playing on this recital gives ample evidence why she is nonpareil in the recorder world. I simply cannot imagine these works any better performed. If there is another recorder player out there that could even match her pitch and tonguing accuracy, her musical expressiveness, and her ability to vary the very timbre of her instrument, in fact, I’m unaware of whom that might be. Her playing is superbly supported by the four different ensembles utilized in this concert. Any serious collector of contemporary concertos would be foolish to pass this one up. 
David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare USA

Michala Petri, recorder
Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra
American Recorder Concertos
Petri is, of course, a genius
Rick, CD HotList - New Releases for Libraries (US
05 April 2019
 
Petri is, of course, a genius
As the press materials point out, “it is one of the great ironies of the recorder´s long historie, that despite being ubiquitous in nearly every American public school program, few composers ever explored writing for it.” Be that as it may, luckily we have the international treasure that is virtuoso recorder player Michala Petri, who has commissioned for showpieces of contemporary classical recorder music: each of them written as a concerto… from Roberto Sierra´s and Steven Stucky´s work for recorder and orchestra to Anthony Newnan´s piece for recorder, harpsichord and string quartet and Sean Hickey´s for recorder with winds, brass, percussion and harp. Most of these pieces (two of which are presented here in world-premiere recordings) are bracingly modernist, though Newman´s hark back very explicitly to the recorder´s glory days during the baroque period. Petri is, of course, a genius.
Rick, CD HotList - New Releases for Libraries (US

Michala Petri, recorder
Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra
American Recorder Concertos
10/10/10
Heinz Braun, Klassik Heute, Germany
13 March 2019
Seit nunmehr 12 Jahren veröffentlicht das kleine dänische Label OUR Recordings eine bislang beispiellose Anthologie zeitgenössischer Blockflötenkonzerte, die im Auftrag der vielfach preisgekrönten Blockflötenvirtuosin Michala Petri entstanden sind. Fürwahr eine Herkulesaufgabe und wahre Heldentat für das vielfach immer noch unterschätzte Instrument, das nicht zuletzt dank Michala Petri inzwischen auch die großen Konzertsäle der Welt erobern konnte. Mit einer Einspielung von amerikanischen Blockflötenkonzerten geht die Serie vorerst zu Ende, und wieder ist dem Team um Lars Hannibal und Michala Petri ein wahres Juwel gelungen: Vier Konzerte wie sie unterschiedlicher nicht sein könnten und doch alles Meisterwerke sui generis. Zwei der vier Kompositionen sind tatsächlich Wiederveröffentlichungen: Steven Stuckys 2000 entstandene Etudes, ein sich mit vertrackten Rhythmen, rasanten Skalenbewegungen, Glissandi und sich über Orgelpunkten und Ostinati entwickelnde athmosphärischen Klangflächen entfaltendes Werk ganz eigener Art. Ein schöner, lohnender Rückgriff auf Movements, die erste CD der Serie aus dem Jahr 2007. Sean Hickeys 2015 entstandenes dreisätziges Konzert A Pacifying Weapon (sinngemäß übersetzt: ein Werkzeug des Friedens) für Blockflöte, Bläser, Schlagzeug und Harfe war bislang nur auf Vinyl greifbar. Das Stück erhielt übrigens die Goldmedaille der Global Music Awards 2017. Für ein zeitgenössisches Blockflötenkonzert ganz sicher eine Premiere und eine „große Bühne“ für das Instrument!
Die beiden anderen Konzerte der CD entstanden eigens für diese Zusammenstellung. Zwar handelt es sich bei Roberto Sierras Prelude, Habanera and Perpetual Motion um die „Bearbeitung“ eines bereits früher für das Duo Petri/Hannibal komponierten Kammermusikwerkes für Blockflöte und Gitarre, doch gewinnt das Stück in dieser völlig neuen Fassung enorm an Charakterschärfe und Ausdruckskraft, deren atmosphärische Dichte sich im Live-Mitschnitt der Uraufführung aus dem Kopenhagener Tivoli vom Sommer vergangenen Jahres widerspiegelt und sich geradezu magisch überträgt. Anthony Newmans Konzert für Blockflöte, Streicher und Cembalo aus dem Jahr 2016 (hier in einer Version mit begleitendem Streichquartett) erfüllt mit seiner neoklassizistischen Grundhaltung, Zugänglichkeit und Spielfreude alle Voraussetzungen, ein viel gespieltes Werk des Gegenwartsrepertoires zu werden, zumal es besetzungsmäßig ein treffliches Pendant zu barocken Solokonzerten darstellt.
Heinz Braun, Klassik Heute, Germany

Michala Petri, recorder
Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra
American Recorder Concertos
The recorder is now a full-fledged citizen of the 21st century.
Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare USA
11 March 2019
My first impression of American Recorder Concertos was that it might be a sequel to Michala Petri’s Movements, a disc which I very favorably reviewed in Fanfare 32:2. However it’s actually the most recent of a tantalizing series devoted to recorder concertos from around the word, including Chinese Recorder Concertos, English Recorder Concertos, Danish & Faroese Recorder Concertos, with Pacific Recorder Concertos, South American Recorder Concertos, and Middle East Recorder Concertos still to come. Assuming these meet the standard set by Movements and American Recorder Concertos—and there’s no reason to presume otherwise—these discs must comprise a fascinating introduction to international contemporary recorder concerto repertoire. This newest release presents an inspired program of colorful, imaginative, and highly individual music that beautifully complements Petri’s phenomenal mastery. Just a portion of what so impressed me would include Sierra’s delightful second movement, Habanera, his third movement Perpetual Motion’s inviting 3+3+2 rhythm that prolongs the Latin ambiance, and the same movement’s conga and recorder cadenza; Stucky’s ingenious, high-flying recorder figures, superb orchestration, and sense of humor; Newman’s backwards glance at Elizabethan music that retains all the vitality and melodic appeal of the originals; and Hickey’s full-blown, almost brutal fanfares balanced by dream-like recorder solos, the numerous dance-inducing passages, and the last movement’s unexpected toe-tapping Scottish Highland reel. As Movements stunningly demonstrated previously, the recorder is now a full-fledged citizen of the 21st century and should no longer be pigeonholed as a Renaissance or Baroque holdover. Enthusiastically recommended
Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare USA

Michala Petri, recorder
Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra
American Recorder Concertos
Has anyone done more to expand the recorder's repertory than Danish musician Michala Petri?
Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare USA
04 March 2019
These four works are further proof that there is no need to “Make America Great Again.” Any country that can produce four concertos that are so different, and yet so consistent in terms of their quality, must already be great, even without any help from the nation's leaders!
                             Of course it helps when you, the composer, are working with a first-class soloist. Has anyone done more to expand the recorder's repertory than Danish musician Michala Petri? The booklet note states that more than 150 works have been composed especially for her. All of the concertos on this CD were written for her in 2015 or more recently, with the exception of Steven Stucky's Etudes, which date from 2000. (One notes with sadness that Stucky passed away in 2016, a victim of brain cancer.) Stucky's work is in three movements whose titles (“Scales,” “Glides,” and “Arpeggios”) are the only introduction that the music really needs, other than to say that the music is not about developing the soloist's technique; these are not exercises any more than Swan Lake is an evening at the barre! Stucky's work is rich in affect, and the central movement, in particular, creates a fascinating, open-ended emotional space.
                             The title of Roberto Sierra's three-movement work also is a more than adequate description of its contents. The first two movements are cloaked in mystery. The third bursts into the daylight, and with its Latin rhythms and turns of phrase, reminds us that Sierra was born in Puerto Rico. The original version of this work was for recorder and guitar; even so, Sierra's expert and colorful use of the orchestra perfectly complements the recorder's timbres.
                             The Concerto for Recorder, Harpsichord, and Strings is one of Anthony Newman's most successful works. Newman built his career as a sometimes unconventional performer on keyboard instruments, and mostly in the Baroque repertory. His latter-day activity as a composer has sometimes been so personal that I am unsure how to approach it. The present work, however, is very inviting in the way that it integrates looking back and looking forward. Once again, the movement titles (“Toccata,” “Devil's Dance,” “Lament,” and “Furie”) just about speak for themselves, and for the concerto as a whole.
                             I reviewed Sean Hickey's A Pacifying Weapon as an mp3 download in Fanfare 41:1. I liked it, with minor reservations, then, and like it no less now. The title is taken from a song by the Indigo Girls, but for us older farts, think of the film The Day the Earth Stood Still and you'll have a frame of reference. Given the use of multiple recorders, and an ever larger percussion instrumentarium, this piece, because of its theatrical tone, probably works better experienced live. Hickey, born in 1970, is by far the youngest composer here, and is more than a decade younger than Petri herself. He doesn't embarrass his elders, however, and, to mention another science fiction classic, we will treat A Pacifying Weapon as a promise of Things To Come.
                             The material on this CD was recorded over a period of 12 years in four different venues. Despite that, there is no variability in the awesomeness of Petri's talents, and there are no jarring differences between the recordings themselves, or between the accompanying musicians. I would have liked it if Petri's instruments had been identified because, as you probably know, a recorder is not a recorder is not a recorder; it is not atypical for a piece she plays to call on more than one of them. That said, the booklet is certainly adequate, and the performances are fare more than that. 
Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare USA

Michala Petri, recorder
Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra
American Recorder Concertos
The indefatigable Michala Petri continues her championship of the recorder repertoire in this beautifully recorded and annotated disc.
Colin Clarke, Fanfare USA
18 February 2019
The indefatigable Michala Petri continues her championship of the recorder repertoire in this beautifully recorded and annotated discComposer Roberto Sierra’s Prelude, Habanera and Perpetual Motion develops a 2006 piece for recorder and guitar. It is precisely this sort of piece that allows us to rethink what the recorder means (what we associate it with) and what it can achieve. The dark Prelude leads to an habanera that is more like an outline of an habanera; shadowy, elusive and slinky in a specter-like way, it leads to a Perpetual Motion that does exactly what it says on the can, with the underpinning of characteristic Afro-Caribbean rhythms. I very much enjoyed an Albany release of cello music by Sierra played by John Haines-Eitzen (Fanfare 41:5); the sheer vivacity of this “Perpetual Motion” finale reminds us of how alive his music can be. Needless to say, perhaps, but worth restating, that Petri is the nonpareil of recorder players and she is faultless here; the Tivoli Copenhagen Philharmonic is in fine, responsive form under the baton of Alexander Shelley (the son of Howard Shelley, incidentally).
Steven Stucky (1949—2016) was once known mainly as an authority on the music of Lutosławski (I personally remember an excellent lecture he gave at King’s College London to grad students in the early-mid 1980s); now, more and more, we can enjoy his own music. Stucky’s Etudes (Concerto for Recorder and Chamber Orchestra) is a more expressive piece than the title might imply. Each movement has a descriptive title (Scales, Glides, Arpeggios), none of which does justice to the delights inside, particularly in the case of the creeping (and creepy) night music of the central panel. The playing is simply remarkable. All players, not only the soloist, need their full wits about them in the scampering finale: cheeky, glittering, agile, this is magnificent, its virtuoso ed guaranteed to raise a smile. A great follow-up would be Stucky’s Album Leaves and Little Variations for David heard on Gloria Cheng’s Telarc recital (which rightly made it to two critics’ Want Lists in 2008).
The name Anthony Newman needs no introduction to Fanfare readers, surely. His huge output is consistently refreshing, in neo-Baroque style and marked by clarity of line and texture, all features of the little packet of delight that is his Concerto for Recorder, Harpsichord and Strings. Newman himself plays harpsichord. The opening Toccata is busy and expert both from composer and performers (the ripieno is performed by a string quartet) while “Devil’s Dance” has Old Nick in circus mode rather than nightmarish visions. The lower end of the recorder invites us into more interior spaces in the “Lament”; the finale is a proper romp, but listen to how Newman’s harmonies have a magnificent unpredictability about them.
Sean Hickey’s A Pacifying Weapon (2015) has already been issued on an all-Hickey OUR disc reviewed in Fanfare 41:1 reviewed as a download by myself. Interestingly enough, that disc had a neo-Baroque piece also, but that
time by Thomas Clausen (and accompanied by the Lapland Chamber Orchestra). Hickey’s piece’s immediate achievement is to ensure we can actually hear the soloist against such a barrage of wind and brass, but his keen ear and ability to work in plateau of different dynamic levels ensures the soloist more than makes her mark. Reacquainting myself with Hickey’s meditation on contemporary disquiets which uses the solo recorder as the “pacifying weapon” confirmed the stature of Hickey’s utterance. There is a real ear here for finely judged sonorities, and the work sustains its length well via the soliloquizing power of the recorder.
Both the Sierra and the Newman are World Premiere recordings; like the Hickey, Steven Stucky’s piece was released previously by OUR on a disc entitled Movements, there sharing space with music by Joan Albert Amargós and Daniel Börtz. A lavish booklet and detailed notes complete a high-class release.
Colin Clarke, Fanfare USA

Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924-2012)
Frederik Munk Larsen
Floating Islands
GUITARMUSIC
Borup-Jørgensen’s guitar music is seldom pretty in any conventional sense of the word
Raymond Tuttle
17 January 2019
To me, it is remarkable, given the difficulty of this music, that is has been only a little more than a year since several Fanfare staffers reviewed a different CD devoted entirely to Axel Borup-Jørgensen’s guitar music. That one featured guitarist Leif Hesselberg (joined, in some works by a second guitarist, Maria Camitz), and was released on the Paula label. Surprisingly, these is very little duplication of repertory between that disc and the new one reviewed here, so if you enjoyed the first one, little should hold you back from exploring the second.
Borup-Jørgensen, who died in 2012, composed extensively for the guitar. That, in large part, is because accomplished guitarists wanted music from him—not just Hesselberg, but also Ingolf Olsen, Erling Møldrup, Maria Kämmerling, and Per Dybro Sørensen. All of the works on these CD were written for one of those individuals. Frederik Munk Larsen was a student of Møldrup, so he has a connection with at least one of Borup-Jørgensen’s guitar muses. While he looks young (he was born in 1974, though—I guess Scandinavians don’t age like the rest of us!) Larsen has the maturity required to give this music sufficient space in which to breathe.
The composer frequently used natural harmonics in these works. Natural harmonics are produced by “lightly placing a finger in the middle of the string while plucking, resulting in a very high, pure sound.” In fact, the 10 pieces in “floating islands” (we hear just four of them here) use nothing but natural harmonics, which creates a very ethereal sound.
But let’s not confuse “ethereal” with “pretty.” Borup-Jørgensen’s guitar music is seldom pretty in any conventional sense of the word. In his later works, melody and a clear sense of pulse disappear entirely. Given the brevity of pieces such as “floating islands” and the four sections of Tristrophoni, perhaps it is natural to think of Webern, but filtered through a stripped-down, Scandinavian purity of thought and economy of gesture.
However, two earlier works on this CD, praeambula and “für gitarre,” are relatively lengthy—both just over 15 minutes—and less minimal in style. Structurally, they are easier to grasp, but they are more confrontational. The latter, in particular, frequently asks the guitarist to execute violent “Bartók” snaps,” in which the guitar’s strings are pulled back so hard that they rebound against the fingerboard when they are released. At times, the acoustic guitar is made to sound like its electric cousin. At other times in Borup-Jørgensen’s guitar music (not just in the two longer works), the guitar actually ceases to sound like a guitar at all, but more like a new type of electronic instrument.
For me, this uncompromising music inspires more respect than affection, but perhaps the latter will come in time. It’s pretty serious, intense stuff. I don’t doubt the composer’s integrity, nor his mastery of alternate guitar worlds. Frederik Munk Larsen plays this music with fierce concentration, even when the dynamics are quiet, quieter, and quietest, as they often are in the later works. 

Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924-2012)
Frederik Munk Larsen
Floating Islands
GUITARMUSIC
Interview with Frederik Munk larsen
Martin Andersson
16 January 2019

Although this is the third Fanfare interview I have conducted to talk about the music of the Danish composer Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924–2012), all triggered by recordings of his music on OUR Recordings, he probably remains an enigmatic figure, even to Fanfare readers. A brief characterization of his music may therefore be useful. Perhaps the composer closest to him among familiar names is Webern and, like Webern, what initially appears to be Modernism is in fact an intense lyricism—brittle, even fractured at times, but still essentially lyrical.

In 40:2 I talked to Erik Kaltoft about the piano music (released on 6.220616), and in 40:4 Jens Christensen spoke to me about the organ music (on 6.220617). Now the spotlight falls on Frederik Munk Larsen, whose album of guitar music by Borup-Jørgensen has come out on 8.220672. Four larger works—Tristrophoni, op. 163 (2000), praeambula, op. 72 (1974–76), the five morceaux that constitute op. 73 (1974–75), and “für gitarre,” op. 86 (1978–79)—are framed by five of the ten aphoristic “floating islands” which make op. 169 (2000–02). I gave Munk Larsen a Skype call at his home in Århus to talk about this sphinx-like music.

Erik Kaltoft told me that he had known Borup-Jørgensen for some 40 years; you are from a younger generation, although you reveal in the booklet that you, too, knew him personally.

Yes, Erik knew him more intimately than I did; he knew him for a bigger span of years. I knew him roughly for 10 years, and during that time I collaborated with him maybe five or six times, on different works, both chamber music and solo works. So I didn’t work with him on all the solo works that I have recorded here.

It’s my suspicion that all the major composers were somewhere on the autistic scale: Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Alkan, Janáček, Prokofiev—take almost anyone you want, and there’s a degree of social dysfunctionality. And Borup-Jørgensen seems to fit that profile pretty convincingly, too.

Well, he could appear shy, but he also had a strong will. And when you played a concert in the Copenhagen area, he was always there, you would always see him, always dressed in the same white clothing. And in his music, too, he seems to be somewhat stubborn. He doesn’t stop using his material; instead, all the time he finds new ways of dealing with it. He’s adventurous in the way that he uses those building blocks, but he tried to put them together in different ways; and so in that sense I feel that his music is personal. He cared about the music, he cared a lot about the language he had found, and then he stayed with it for at least a number of years. You will see in some of the music for the guitar—like praeambula, which is one of the first works, or in morceaux, and in another work which I didn’t record, Praeludien, which is a kind of condensed version of praeambula—he doesn’t use the material up in one piece; he re-uses it and refines it in various ways.

One of the particular characteristics of Borup-Jørgensen is that, whereas almost all the traditional composers—Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Sibelius, Nielsen, say—take their basic building blocks and expand from them, Borup-Jørgensen seems to burrow into his material, as if he were putting it under the microscope.

Yes, he was interested in more sparse music, you could say that. Some of the pieces I was almost afraid to record were these “floating islands,” because the material is only natural harmonics, and at first when you start to work on them, it’s difficult to find a structure. But for me these were the pieces that grew the most on me—and a few of them I really find hauntingly beautiful.

One can imagine this music being conceived on a calm summer night—it has an essential stillness about it, but that makes it so much more exposed than something which is more energetic.

Yes, the intimacy in the music is something closer to how I see him as a person, even though I knew him only when he was quite aged. But that was when he also wrote this music. He was really devoted to the guitar—well, to a number of instruments, but including the guitar. As a singular composer, he was not so easy to influence. He was a singular voice on the musical landscape of Denmark, at least, and I don’t find many like him in general. He seems to be both knowledgeable and coherent about what he does, and at the same time writing in a way that is distinctive.

There’s a quotation from Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen in Josh Cheek’s booklet notes which set me wondering: “He has a Swedish quality in his music, and one can almost hear the Swedish forests and the special melancholy which is found in Swedish art”—but I find the music so pared down that I can’t find that kind of local color in it at all.

Maybe it’s because when you go to Ystad, you find these landscapes that are quite bare! Of course, it’s difficult for me to know what Pelle meant. Pelle’s music is also sparse, and he was also a special character and composer, of course. But they shared the same kind of qualities, even if Pelle was working in the orchestral mainstream much more than Axel was. Of course, we can’t now ask Pelle what he meant [he died in 2016], but for me it is more an absolute music. Axel really has this music inside that he wants to express, and he has this well of given material that he is dealing with to make it work even better. But even though I feel that he really knows what he wants to say, some of the things he writes are very ambiguous, like forward, but not too much; still, but with movement, that kind of thing.

The booklet notes mention one instruction: quasi un poco crescendo—how do you play that?

Yes, there are a lot of things like that. He wants something, but on the other hand you have to be careful. It’s not like someone saying I want it but I don’t want it; it’s more like he wanted it but you should be aware. There’s a carefulness. He was a neat, little man, and the way he spoke was very precise and accurate.

Did he have any kind of regional accent in his Danish? Could you tell that he had spent part of his childhood in Sweden, for example?

Yes, he had a peculiar accent, actually—he was very singular also in that sense! But I think he liked that; I think he liked to stand out a bit, since his habits were as they were.

It strikes me that, for all the qualities of the piano and the organ works, music of this intimacy is suited to the guitar best of all, because of the delicacy it can offer.

Yes, he was certainly very intimate with the guitar. You’ve probably seen the images of him with his own kind of fretboard that he worked with. He really loved the guitar, and this kind of static, soft, intimate soundworld that subtly evolves, at least in the later music—there it really fits the instrument.

Well, one can’t imagine Fabergé working with steel or concrete.

No, that’s for sure! I was very happy to be asked to make this recording, and both to rediscover and to discover some of the works I had heard briefly but I hadn’t played before. So it has been great for me to take on this challenge for OUR Recordings.

What percentage of the guitar music is here? Is it most of it, half of it?

It’s most of it. There are a few works missing. There’s something called Fabula, but it’s very closely related to the “floating islands”; and then there’s the Praeludien, which is basically a revised (shorter, condensed) version of the praeambula. So you couldn’t say that all the opus numbers are there (there are these two that are lacking, and a few of the “floating islands” are not there), but I would say that all the material is there, so it’s about 85 percent of the music.

How much of it had you played before you took it into the recording studio?

I had studied the big one, praeambula, before, and I had played morceaux and “für gitarre,” but I didn’t play Tristrophoni or “floating islands” before. I had played Praeludien, which I didn’t record, but I thought it was more interesting to plunge into his first major attempt with the guitar, praeambula. There are a lot of qualities in the piece, though it’s also unpractical to play, and quite demanding.

A lot of composers have trouble when they’re faced with a guitar, since they’re not exactly sure how to write for it. How idiomatic is Borup-Jørgensen’s writing for the instrument?

Well, I wouldn’t say that he wrote in a very idiomatic way, but he always knew what he wanted. And he was always carefully checking that it was possible or feasible to play something on the instrument. You still have to work with it, and work with the fingering. He certainly knew the instrument, and I feel that his music is written for the instrument but it’s still his music, it’s absolute music—it’s not like he changes his way of writing because it’s for guitar, as some composers tend to do.

On my relatively superficial acquaintance with the music, I’m not sure I could identify a developmental path in these pieces if I were handed them out of chronological order. Can you hear an evolution here?

In the sense that the material is so very specific and partly identical in praeambula and morceaux, and these are the earliest pieces. Then there is some material in common with “für gitarre,” which is also an earlier work, but that’s the next step, and there he’s using other elements also. But then certainly I feel that the newer works—Tristrophoni and “floating islands”—are more related, much more softly spoken. They don’t contain the same harshness. Tristrophoni is still gestural, but it’s more controlled, it’s made with a finer chisel. Both have a lot of details and have a larger form. In that sense I feel a development. And also, like you said, maybe the most significant development is that he uses a microscope to zoom in on it. In the “floating islands,” if I recorded them all, there would be something like half an hour of natural-harmonic pieces, mainly consisting of the same elements. It might be an interesting record, but it would be quite static. So my idea was to place these pieces, well, like islands across the recording to tie it together. That was the basic idea.

In my experience, the best albums are those that maximize contrast within their basic parameters, and that can’t be so easy with this music.

Well, I did aim to get some kind of curve in the recording, some kind of linkage. I was thinking more that I should have some places where I can link pieces and some places where the stillness of the intermezzi, the “floating islands,” is cut by something very abrupt, very loud or very gestural. That was my intention.

When you get something like the Bartók snaps of “für gitarre”, in this context they come across as almost violent.

Yes, they are quite violent.

I talked before about your taking the music into the “recording studio”—but the church of Fredensborg Castle is some studio! It’s the first time I’ve seen a CD with an acknowledgement to a king or queen among the credits, and there’s Queen Margrethe II listed with everybody else.

We had permission from her personally to do it there; I was very happy about that. We needed a place relatively near to Copenhagen that would be the most peaceful. There are lots of nice halls, of course, but with many of them you are close to traffic. Then we talked about the Slottskirke [castle church] of Fredensborg; Hannibal [Lars Hannibal, co-founder of OUR Recordings, whom everyone calls by his family name, since there are rather fewer Hannibals than Larses in Denmark] simply asked them and he got permission. They [the royal family] were there at the time, and we of course had to follow protocol so as not to disturb them. It worked out, luckily, even though at one point the grass needed cutting with a lawnmower.

How do audiences react to Borup-Jørgensen’s music?

Very differently. It depends on the audience, of course, but mainly very positively.

I imagine it needs careful planning—if you were to put it on after, I don’t know, Barrios or Villa-Lobos, it’s so different that people might not know how to react.

Yes, it is very different. Maybe I would rather put it next to Bach or something more of an absolute character. You mention Barrios and Villa-Lobos, which is very good music, of course, but it is conceived very much more with the instrument. Even though I like to mix programs with older and more accessible music and modern repertoire, I’m always a little bit careful. But in general I’m not afraid to put in some of his works—of course, the miniatures and something like morceaux—and these pieces can work really well. I played them last year on a tour of Colombia, and the audience really liked it. But a piece like praeambula both takes a lot of courage, because it’s a really demanding piece, and it’s long, and the difficulty is to be clear enough to hold the attention of the listener for that long span.

When I was talking to Erik Kaltoft, I mentioned that I found the piano music had a ritual quality, and the kind of formal elegance you get in a Japanese stone garden. It’s a pity there isn’t guitar music by composers like Ockeghem—it would sit quite well with music from that late-Medieval/early-Renaissance period. It might go quite well with Bálint Bakfark, for example.

Yes, that’s true. I know that music, of course, but I never played it in concert. I was thinking about programming it with some of the fantastic music that was written for the Renaissance lute or the vihuela, or some of the fantasias by Luis de Milán—music that also has a kind of flow but that is quite still.

  BORUP-JØRGENSEN “floating islands, ” op. 120/0, 2, 5a, 5b. Tristrophoni, op. 163/1. praeambula, op. 72. morceaux, op. 73. “für gitarre, ” op. 86 Frederik Munk Larsen (gtr) OUR 6.220672 (SACD: 51:03)

 

 


Martin Andersson

DVD: MARIN (Animated Fantasy), Axel (Portrait)
SACD: Selected Highlights
Marin
Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924-2012)
Borup – Jørgensens fantasi om havet er et hovedværk i dansk musik
Valdemar Lønsted, Newspaper Information, Denmark
09 January 2019
Information (DK)
Borup – Jørgensens fantasi om havet er et hovedværk i dansk musik
Axel Borup-Jørgensen kunne have sagt med Mahlers ord: Min tid vil komme. For det er sket inden for de sidste år, og samme profeti kunne også gælde den engang så foragtede Rued Langgaard. To markante udgivelser beviser til fulde, hvor store komponister de var.
Marin er titlen på en dobbeltudgivelse, der rummer en dvd og en cd med værker af Axel Borup-Jørgensen, og tilmed får man et smukt filmportræt af ham. Dens helt særlige attraktion er dvd´ens animerede undervandsfantasi som et visuelt parallelspor til orkesterfantasien Marin, som man kunne kalde et modstykke til Claude Debussys tre skitser til havet, La Mer. Animationen af en verden på havets bund er et eventyrligt visuelt kunststykke, som så at siger suger lytteren ind i Marin og faktisk hjælper til at følge med den uhyre komplekse strøm af klange og rytmer.
Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924-2012) var for så vidt en sjælden fugl i det danske komponistreservat, en del år ældre end triumviratet Nørholm, Nørgård og Gudmundsen-Holmgreen. Han voksede op i Sverige i tæt kontakt med svensk natur og kultur, han begyndte at studerer på konservatoriet i København i 1946, gik stille med dørene og blev først for alvor opdaget af offentligheden, da han vandt DR´s komponistkonkurrence i1960. Førsteprisen førte til en bestilling af et nyt stort værk til radiosymfonikerne med sig, det blev Marin, som fik sin uropførelse i 1970 underledelse af Herbert Blomstedt. Gudmundsen-Holmgreen kaldte det siden for et enestående mesterværk i den danske orkesterlitteratur.
Stilhed og usynlige strømme
Borup-Jørgensen fik altså sit livs chance for at komponerer for det fuldt udbyggede symfoniorkester, og han lod den ikke passere. Det var bevidst, at han valgte et program til musikken, for han ønskede at komme i kontakt med publikum, og med et digt om havet-sådan kan man godt forestille sig, han tænkte om sin plan-skabte han sig et stort og udfordrende spillerum.
Han skitserede en udvikling ikke helt ulig Debussy: opvågnen før daggry, høj sø, glitren i sollyset, havblik, brænding, storm. Og for Borup-Jørgensen var det vigtigt, at ingen rytmiske mønstre eller klangkombinationer så vidt muligt skulle gentage sig, sådan som havets rytmer og farver heller ikke gør det. Intet måtte træde for tydeligt frem, der skulle være en helhed af klang, ingen egentlige temaer, men et perpetuum mobile uden begyndelse og slutning, hvor så at sige hvert instrument både spiller selvstændigt og lader sig opsluge af lyden fra de andre.
Det er så påfaldende, at animationen af Marin foregår på havets bund, hvor stilhed og usynlige strømme hersker i en verden af lyse pastelagtige farver. Det kunne ligne havfolkets habitat som hos H. C. Andersen, der er bjerglandskaber, og en by med sælsomme huse, forladte rum og korridorer, og alt går antydningsvist for sig med væsener, der bevæger sig elegant og målbevidst gennem elementet.
Med Borup-Jørgensens suggestivt omsluttende musik aner man åbenbaringen af et foruroligende mysterium, med de levende billeder fastholdes koncentrationen om musikkens nu. Det er en forunderlig dobbelthed.
Thomas Søndergård og radiosymfonikerne folder det ødsle partitur ud med en imponerende indforståethed, men måske skal den største ros gå til produceren Preben Iwan, som har indfanget de mange instrumentalstemmer i en mesterlig detaljeringsgrad. Bliv derefter klogere på den store komponist i filmportrættet, hvor han selv kommer til orde og bliver beskrevet af det før omtalte komponisttriumvirat, datteren Elisabet Selin, Michala Petri og mange andre. I 2018 modtog Marin-udgivelsen den tyske Grammy for bedste musikproduktion på dvd/blue-ray, og den er nomineret til en af DR´s P2- priser i 2019. 
Valdemar Lønsted, Newspaper Information, Denmark

Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924-2012)
Frederik Munk Larsen
Floating Islands
GUITARMUSIC
I strongly recommend this for all who appreciate New Music for guitar. Bravo!
Gregory Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review,US
04 January 2019
Danish composer Axel-Borup-Jorgensen (1924-2012)  is one of those 20th century musical figures it takes some time to appreciate. I have covered a number of albums of his music on these pages and perhaps only now with this new album of music for guitar named Floating Islands (OUR Recordings 8 220672) do I feel like I have learned thoroughly his musical language. Nearly an hour of Borop-Jorgensen solo guitar works are the order of the day, played articulately and elegantly by Frederik Munk Larsen.

Four pieces from the"Floating Island" series are included, as well as five more works in single or multiple parts. It is generally High Modernist in its structural harmonic edginess with a syntax all his own. "Islands" is an apt description, as often the works phrase in single or short multiple units, each in itself a floating body to to speak. So they may be harmonics, staccato chords, softly-voiced simultaneities, singular notes or short phrases, you name it. Each section hangs together and poeticises a guitar sound in depth.

It is refreshingly pristine music that holds its own and continues to fascinate each time you hear it. I strongly recommend this for all who appreciate New Music for guitar. Bravo! 
Gregory Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review,US

Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924-2012)
Frederik Munk Larsen
Floating Islands
GUITARMUSIC
10/10/10 in jeder Hinsicht Referenzcharakter besitzt. Eine großartige Produktion!
Heinz Braun
18 December 2018
 
Für den Gitarristen Lars Hannibal, spiritus rector des audiophilen dänischen Labels OUR Recordings, war die Aufnahme von Gitarrenmusik Axel Borup-Jørgensens mit seinem jüngeren Kollegen Frederik Munk Larsen, wohl eine Herzensangelegenheit. Damit reiht sich auch diese CD in die bereits bestehende, beeindruckende Liste exemplarischer Einspielungen von Werken Borup-Jørgensens auf OUR Recordings ein.
Nicht vielen Komponisten ist oder war es vergönnt, dass ihr musikalisches Erbe so intensiv, liebevoll und kompetent gepflegt und der Öffentlichkeit zugänglich gemacht wird! Insbesondere Elisabet Selin (der Tochter des Komponisten), Lars Hannibal und seinen durchweg exquisiten Interpreten und phänomenalen Tonmeistern ist es zu verdanken, dass Borup-Jørgensens Name nicht in Vergessenheit gerät, mehr noch – zu einer ungeahnten Blüte und internationalen Anerkennung gelangt ist. Erst vor Kurzem wurde die (ebenso von OUR realisierte) sensationelle CD/DVD-Produktion von Borup-Jørgensens orchestralem Hauptwerk „Marin“ mit einem OPUS Klassik ausgezeichnet. „Floating Islands“ präsentiert eine Auswahl solistischer Gitarrenmusik des Komponisten, aufgenommen in der fabelhaften natürlichen Akustik der Kirche von Schloss Fredensborg, nördlich von Kopenhagen. Für Borup-Jørgensen und seine musikalische Klangwelt, deren kompromisslose Seriosität und häufig introspektive Qualität eine stete Verfeinerung erfuhr, schien die Gitarre ein geradezu ideales Instrument zu sein. Mitte der Sechziger Jahre entdeckte der Komponist die Gitarre für sich, inspiriert vom bedeutenden dänischen Gitarristen Ingolf Olsen. In welch hohem Maße er sich die Idiomatik des Instruments zueigen gemacht hat, bezeugt nicht allein die nicht unerhebliche Anzahl von Werken, die er für und mit Gitarre hinterlassen hat, sondern auch die Tatsache, dass sie – zu Recht – heute auch international zu den Meilensteinen des zeitgenössischen Gitarrenrepertoires gezählt werden. Was den Einsatz „moderner“ Spieltechniken anbelangt, war Borup-Jørgensen zunächst eher zurückhaltend. Ab Beginn der 2000er Jahre jedoch faszinierten ihn zunehmend die klanglichen Möglichkeiten des Flageolettspiels auf der Gitarre – soweit, dass er in „Floating Islands“ (den hier in Ausschnitten quasi als „Intermezzi“ zu hörenden zehn Miniaturen) ein Werk schuf, das ausschließlich aus Flageoletten besteht und den Hörer in eine surreale, unerhörte Klangwelt entführt, in der die Zeit still zu stehen scheint. Zwischen diesen – wie es der Komponist ausdrückte – „Inseln, die auf der Stille schweben“ erklingen weitere zentrale Gitarrensolostücke Borups aus den Siebziger Jahren, an denen sich die stilistische Entwicklung und Verfeinerung seiner Schreibweise sehr gut ablesen lässt. Über die legendäre Klangqualität, die gewohnt großzügige Ausstattung des Beihefts voll wertvoller Einblicke (hier in Gestalt des hervorragenden Einführungstextes von Joshua Cheek) sowie die ebenso dezente wie exzellente graphische Gestaltung muss man keine Worte verlieren. Mit Frederik Munk Larsen hat Borup-Jørgensens Musik ihren idealen Interpreten gefunden: technisch souverän und musikalisch die in jeder Hinsicht Referenzcharakter besitzt. Eine großartige Produktion! mit großer Ruhe und Einsicht gelingt ihm eine Einspielung

Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924-2012)
Frederik Munk Larsen
Floating Islands
GUITARMUSIC
Remarkable, demanding but infinitely rewarding music in impeccable performances
Colin Clarke, Fanfare
17 December 2018
 
The music of Axel Borup-Jørgensen has impressed me previously on a number of occasions. The “animated fantasy” MARIN made my 2018 Want List (it was reviewed in full in Fanfare 41:4), while a disc of recorder music shattered any ideas of expected gentilité from this instrument (Fanfare 37:5). Perhaps the most immediately memorable, though, was a SACD of organ music played by Jens Christensen (Fanfare 40:4).
So here we turn to a predominantly gentle side of the composer in the expert hands of Frederik Munk Larsen, Associate Professor and head of the classical guitar program at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus, Denmark. His technique clearly knows no bounds; his performances of Borup-Jørgensen’s music speak of the highest devotion. The title of the present disc is that of the most prevalent piece, floating islands; as we contrast Borup-Jørgensen’s changing compositional voice from the earliest pieces (praeambula, 1974, revised 1976, morceaux, 1974/75 and für gitarre, 1978/79) to the later (Tristophoni, 2000, floating islands, 2000/02), we find an increased emphasis on natural harmonics in the more recent pieces. In floating islands, op. 169:0, we hear a piece verging on the audible written only in harmonics, each precisely notated (the title comes both from the idea of those harmonics as islands of sound and from the great poem The Dead Pan by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, specifically the four lines beginning at, “Can your mystic voices tell us/Where ye hide? In floating islands …”), while the Webernian brevity of the four movements of Tristophoni (heard here in its first version) speak of a remarkable concision. Natural harmonics again feature, in panels of the utmost beauty; Borup-Jørgensen revels here, as elsewhere on the disc, in the “softening” of dissonant intervals via the timbral voice of the guitar.
The 1976 revision for the first recording of praeambula is what is heard here. A quarter-hour piece subdivided into some twelve sections plus coda, the work explores a set of moods (it was originally intended to be a set of pieces but the material demanded a larger canvas). That first recording by Erling Møldrup is available on a Danacord disc entitled Early Morn; it is impossible to claim a preference between Larsen and Møldrup, as both play with full dedication and concentration. Importantly, praeambula’s material would turn up again in the op. 73 morceaux (included here), the op. 76 Preludien and the Guitar Concerto, op. 98, subtitled “déjà-vu”. Most importantly, perhaps, there is great beauty here; if the underlying story of this disc is the love Borup-Jørgensen has for the guitar and the gentleness he finds at the instrument’s core, it is perhaps in praeambula that we find its surest and clearest manifestation. The morceaux, op. 73, while taking its material from praeambula, contains maximal contrast in its brevity (the third movement is just over two minutes but the rest vary between 35 seconds and just over a minute).
The extended für gitarre uses “Bartók snaps,” wherein the guitar string is forcibly plucked so it rebounds against the fingerboard. This piece seems particularly harmonically complex, and all the more enigmatic for it. Larsen’s performance is faultless.
Many of Borup-Jørgensen’s works are published by Editions-S, and indeed Larsen gives an introduction to Borup-Jørgensen’s guitar works (in English) on the publisher’s website: http://www.edition-s.dk/media/guitarist-frederik-munk-larsen-talks-about-the-guitar-music-by-axel-borup-jørgensen. Our thanks are surely due to the Danish OUR Recordings label for its continuing belief in Borup-Jørgensen’s music. Production standards, from the intimate, perfectly judged recording to the booklet notes, are of the very highest. Remarkable, demanding but infinitely rewarding music in impeccable performances. 
Colin Clarke, Fanfare

Marcus Creed, Conductor
L'amour et la foi
Vocal Music by Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992)
Choral music and DSD fans, you’ll eat this one up.
Craig Zeichner, Native DSD
07 December 2018
Craig Zeichner is the Associate Director of Marketing and Copy at Carnegie Hall.
Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Danish National Concert Choir
Danish National Chamber Orchestra
Marcus Creed, Conductor

Olivier Messiaen’s choral music has never enjoyed the recognition his organ, piano, chamber, and orchestral works have. His La Nativité du Seigneur (organ), Quatuor pour la fin du temps (chamber music), and Turangalîla-Symphonie (orchestra) are regularly performed; while his Trois Petites liturgies de la Presence Divine and Cinq Rechants are heard less often. The other work on this superb recording, O sacrum convivium, might resonate for some as it does turn up occasionally as an Offertory motet during the Mass and as a stand-alone in choral concerts. No matter, this recording will dazzle you whether you hearing these works for the first time or are well-acquainted with them.
Trois Petites liturgies de la Presence Divine was written during the Nazi occupation of France and shortly after Messiaen’s release from a prisoner of war camp. A visionary work, it’s a superb synthesis of the composer’s devout Christian belief and fascination with tonal color, unusual textures, and exotic rhythms—it is ecstatic worship that shouts, sings, and soars. It is also a difficult work to perform as singers have to negotiate hairpin harmonic and rhythmic turns while wrestling with its stratospheric tessitura. The women of the Danish choirs are spectacular. Their dangerously exposed entrances, often at the top part of their registers, are spot on pitch and their singing communicates the wondrous joy of the text. The Danish National Chamber Orchestra are outstanding and kudos to pianist Marianna Shirinyan, who absolutely nails the bird song passages.
The gorgeous motet O sacrum convivium is an early work and the only one in which Messiaen uses a liturgical text (this by St. Thomas Aquinas). Its fluid lyricism, chant-like style, unique harmonies, and flat-out beautiful soprano line glow in this performance. Contrasting with the frenetic passions of the Trois Petites liturgies de la Presence Divine and Cinq Rechants, the motet’s other-worldly languor is all the more powerful.
Cinq rechants, from 1948, is—like the earlier Harawi and Turangalîla-Symphonie—inspired by the Tristan and Isolde myth and was called a “love song” by the composer. Scored for 12 solo voices and sung in French and a Sanskrit-like language invented by Messiaen, it pushes the boundaries of choral writing. There’s vibrant declamatory passages, honeyed melodies contrasting with crunching dissonances and—perhaps most remarkably—voices used to color harmonies and create percussive effects. Not for the timid of heart, Cinq rechants is one of the most fascinating explorations of what the human voice is capable of.
As I mentioned earlier, the performances are stunning. The vocal ensembles’ control of dynamics is extraordinary and there is a warmth to their singing that is absolutely fetching.   One key component is the sound quality. In dense passages where voices collide with instruments—like the piercing ondes martenot or percussion—there is a pinpoint clarity that allows you to hear every detail. For example, there is a passage in the Trois Petites liturgies de la Presence Divine where piano, ondes martenot, and percussion are pouring out a tremendous volume of sound, yet I was able to hear the whispering maracas through the mix. I can think of no better introduction to Messiaen’s delirious and delightful choral music than L’amour et la foi. Choral music and DSD fans, you’ll eat this one up. 
Craig Zeichner, Native DSD

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
”Listen to this, all ye choral practitioners, and despair! Or, celebrate”.
David Vernier, Classics Today, USA
08 November 2018
ClassicToday (US)
A program of Danish songs, set for a cappella choir? Understandably this kind of thing may not be on your "must purchase"--or even "must listen"--list. But one of the reasons we're here is to share discoveries such as this, and hope that you may find it as rewarding and enlightening as we did. Årstiderne--28 Danske Sange--the disc's title, for which no translation is provided, means "The seasons--28 Danish songs". We may have guessed most of that, but no such luck for the song texts, for which no translations are given in the accompanying liner booklet (you have to find them online, annoying and inconvenient enough if you're an English speaker dealing in more familiar German or French, but when all the songs are in Danish, it's really essential that some translation is given that you can easily access while listening).
Fortunately, the beauty of the songs and exemplary choral singing obliterates our objection to the fact that we have no idea what the singers are singing about. You might expect that these are just relatively modern arrangements of old Danish folksongs--except that for various reasons there aren't any "old Danish folksongs". Here's the way conductor Bo Holten describes it: "Denmark is unique in having an unusually rich heritage of national songs written roughly between 1830 and 1960. This is mostly due to its lack of natural folksongs...because Denmark suffered a series of military and other defeats in the 19th century that considerably diminished its size and power. A national feeling had to be supported and therefore national poems and melodies were written in great numbers."
From this situation a group of teachers, pastors, and writers joined to revive the Danish national identity, and from this the Danish tradition of the “folkehøjskole” (“Folk High School”) was created. Singing was a significant part of this movement, and in 1894 the first Højskolesangbogen (High School Songbook) was published. A revision was published in 1922, with many contributions by composer Carl Nielsen.
So that is the background, but the bottom line for today's listeners, even those who have no knowledge of Danish, is that these are wonderful songs, importantly "unsentimental" (in Holten's description) in character, and artfully simple and unfailingly affecting in their design for a cappella choir. Soothing, ingratiating, yet in no way trite or schmaltzy, these melodies and their harmonic realizations are as easy to listen to--and in many cases as sophisticated--as some of Brahms' more agreeable, luscious contributions to this very particular vocal genre (sound clips).
And the singing--here is the way such music--a cappella, homophonic, straightforward songs in their original language--should be sung. This is what happens when a true ensemble performs as its name suggests. In an orchestra, instruments within a given section more or less sound the same--in a choir this is not the case. You have to work especially hard to refine voices into an ensemble while preserving certain individual characteristics. Listen to this, all ye choral practitioners, and despair! Or, celebrate.
A whole program of song arrangements--rarely a line of polyphony, no real ecstatic, dramatic elements, mostly moderate in tempo--although there are certainly some faster, livelier pieces--in essence no more than harmonized tunes, 28 of them, should not be so incredibly affecting and worthy--no, demanding--of repeat. But here it is. I wish the powers of decision at the label had thought it important to include translations of the song texts--after all, this is a recording of songs, whose texts are presumably important, aren't they? So, it misses a top recommendation. But, after a few minutes' listening, you probably won't care. It does what it's supposed to do, and does it extremely well

Quotes extract:
”Listen to this, all ye choral practitioners, and despair!
Or, celebrate”.
“… The bottom line for today´s listeners, even those who Have no knowledge of Danish, is that these are wonderful songs, importantly “unsentimental” (in Bo Holten´s description) in character, and artfully simple and unfallingly affecting in their design for a cappella choir.
“And the singing--here is the way such music--a cappella, homophonic, straightforward songs in their original language--should be sung. This is what happens when a true ensemble performs as its name suggests.
“A whole program of song arrangements--rarely a line of polyphony, no real ecstatic, dramatic elements, mostly moderate in tempo… should not be so incredibly affecting and worthy--no, demanding--of repeat. But here it is”. David Vernier
David Vernier, Classics Today, USA

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
Denne nye CD er så fint indlevet og så smukt sunget, at den ikke må glemmes
John Christiansen
08 November 2018
De danske årstider
Dansk korsang rangerer kvalitativt højt internationalt. Den danske sangskat er stor, varieret og en oplevelse. Alt dette er kogt ned på en ny cd fra OUR Recordings, hvor komponisten og kordirigenten Bo Holten dirigerer det fine, fornemme DR VokalEnsemblet, som vi også kender fra Dagens sang på DR K og programserien Før søndagen på DR 1, og som vist lykkeligvis har overlevet rovmordet på DR.  Fællesnævneren hedder Årstiderne, og det er fantastisk at høre de 28 danske sange åbne sig gennem de fire årstider, foråret med syv sange, den rige sommer med ni sange og efteråret og vinteren med hver seks. Hver årstid har sin egen atmosfære, men der er også rige nuancer indenfor hver årstid. Man fornemmer, hvordan årstidernes vekslen betyder en vekslen i sjælen. Man kan høre pladen i sin helhed, men det også en cd, som man kan lade sig vække åndeligt veloplagt med koncentreret i en enkelt sang forskelligt valgt hver gang. Vi får alle tekster med i pladehæftet.
Den første sang overrasker, for hvem kender H. C. Andersens ”Vandring i skoven” til en traditionel langelandsk melodi, og så hører man ”I skovens stile ro”. H. C. Andersen elskede melodien og skrev nye vers til den. Helge Rodes ”Der er ingenting i verden så stille som sne” til Thomas Laubs musik åbner vintersangene, og året afsluttes med den samme tekst til Povl Hamburgers melodi. Bo Holten nævner i sin artikel i pladehæftet, at han ikke kunne modstå fristelsen til at tage begge melodier med, da de begge rammende skildrer den fine vinterlige stemning. Men sikke en rig verden også derimellem. Thomas Laub, Carl Nielsen, Oluf Ring og Thorvald står for halvdelen af det musikalske væld på cd’en. Vi får de mest populære sange fra deres tradition. Der er kommet mange fine indspilninger med danske korsange. Denne nye med a cappella sang, altså uden instrumentledsagelse, er så fint indlevet og så smukt sunget, at den ikke må glemmes.  Årstiderne. 28 danske sange. DR VokalEnsemblet, dirigent Bo Holten. OUR Recordings 8.226911. Distribution Naxos. 68 minutter.
John Christiansen

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
The words are delivered with care and clarity, while allowing the musicality of the setting to shine through.
Brian Morton, Choir & Organ UK
07 November 2018
4 out of 5 stars
The title refers to a passage of season and the songs are thematically grouped into four seasonal themes, with a cheeringly generous emphasis on Summer. Not many of the songs – or their poetic originals – will be family to a non-Danish audience. Kaj Munk´s Den blå anemone, set by Egil Harder, is an early standout and delivered with bright and you might say springlike energy by the smallish but beautiful balanced choir. Bo Holten knows most of this material intimately, and it shows. The words are delivered with care and clarity, while allowing the musicality of the setting to shine through
Brian Morton, Choir & Organ UK

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
Årshjulets Sangskat
Mikkel Krarup
06 November 2018
“Den Danske Sangskat” -  et forkætret udtryk, som dog her giver så udmærket mening. Det hele startede i begyndelsen af forrige århundrede, takket være Thomas Laub og Carl Nielsen med deres ”En snes danske viser 1915”. Så kom Folkehøjskolens Melodibog i 1922, og så kender vi resten.
Denne nyudgivelse drejer sig mest om danske sange fra første halvdel af det 20. århundrede, men der er også blevet plads til et par nyere. De 28 sange er inddelt årstidsvis, så det er muligt at tage Højskolesangbogen i hånden og følge med teksterne i de respektive afsnit.
Bo Holten står selv for ca. halvdelen af arrangementerne, de øvrige er blandt andet komponisternes egne. De er der alle sammen, sangene, kunne man fristes til at sige, valget er traditionelt og forventeligt. Men det virker rigtigt. ”Den blå anemone”, ”Det er i dag Årshjulets Sangskat
et vejr”, ”Hvor smiler fagert”, ” Jeg ser de bøgelyse øer”, ”Septembers himmel”, ”Det er hvidt herude”, alle er repæsentative for de skiftende årstider, vi nyder godt af i dette land.
Som et lille raffinement giver koret to versioner af ”Der er ingenting i verden så stille som sne”, den velkendt af Povl Hamburger, men også den af Thomas Laub, en smuk og sart lille melodi.
DR VokalEnsemblet byder på vanlig høj kvalitet, både i de sange, som er velegnede til fællessang, og i de mere kunstlede, hvor arrangementerne byder på lækkerier, som få amatørkor ville kunne præstere. Hele udgivelsen er meget ”klassisk”, med en tendens til det lidt for pæne i både de gedigne højskolesangbogs-sange samt i flere af kunstsangene. 
Mikkel Krarup

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
Interview with Bo Holten
KEN MELTZER, Fanfare
31 October 2018
A lovely new disc on the OUR Recordings label features the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, conducted by Bo Holten. The disc comprises a cappella choral arrangements of Danish songs that relate to the various seasons of the year. I had the opportunity to speak with Bo Holten about the new disc, and the rich and fascinating tradition of Danish song.
In your liner notes for 28 Danish Songs, you distinguish the national songs of Denmark from the “natural folksongs” of its neighbors, Norway and Sweden. What are the differences (and simi- larities) between the two types of songs?
Denmark is flat and small. Through the centuries it has been a country with loads of people trav- eling through it. Some stay, some leave their genes, but they all come with their own music. So it is extremely hard to distinguish what really is “Danish music.” In Norway and Sweden, mountainous countries with valley cultures where indigenous peoples stay for centuries in the same places, a strongly individual and profiled music developed and exists to this day. Not so in Denmark, where only a few (but very fine) folksongs have survived (many of them collected by Percy Grainger!), but no instrumental music of mentionable quality.
How do the national songs reflect the music and life of the people of Denmark?
The national songs from the 19th century are typical Romantic songs, very much in the German style (Danes live close to Germany, and German culture has always been a very dominating ele- ment), but the song movement, started by Laub and Nielsen in 1915 (Denmark was neutral during World War I) made a very marked turning point. A completely new style of music was invented based on … God knows what? Out of the blue Thomas Laub and Carl Nielsen wrote these two col- lections, En snes danske viser 1 and 2 (1915–17), 44 songs in all, which gave all the aesthetic fun- damentals for the Højskole song, which culminated in Højskolesangbogens Melodibog (1922). Practically all the songs on this new CD come from this time and these collections, the founding fa- thers of which were Laub, Nielsen, Oluf Ring, and Thorvald Aagaard. The musical style is a strange concoction of many influences, but it seems very natural and simple (in the best meaning of the word). Songs have continually been composed in Denmark in this style, and are widely sung throughout the country. It has to be said that commercial American pop culture also has exerted a strong influence on the production and performance of these songs since the 1970s, but the original style is still used when people sing together in large communities.
What qualities of these songs do you think will appeal even to those not familiar with Denmark’s history and culture?
The melodic strength in the repertoire will always appeal to most music lovers, but the fact that all the texts are in Danish severely hinders these songs from diffusing into other countries. Attempts have recently been made to translate some of the songs and actually sing them in English. To Danish ears this sounds extremely odd, and the translations cannot really recreate the charm and local color of the originals. But good recordings of the repertoire (even if you are hearing the same tune again and again, verse after verse) and subtle shadings between the different verses actually can make a satisfying progression that is immediately comprehensible to foreigners.
I’m sure it must have been difficult to limit the contents of this disc to 28 songs. How did you go about choosing the repertoire?
In the last 20 years I have, along with my vocal ensemble Music Ficta, made more than 15 CDs with at least 300 songs from this repertoire (available on Naxos). I chose to make this present CD a cycle of seasonal songs, picking only the very best plums mostly from the early repertoire before 1950, the songs that are best known and loved in Denmark. It was quite easy to select the mostly sung pieces, and a few not-so-well-known surprises.
28 Danish Songs charts the change of seasons in Denmark, from spring through winter. Does this progression have a particular significance and emotional resonance for the Danish people?
As in most countries outside the tropics, the seasons are a very important cultural element, and
so too in Denmark. We have a very rich treasure of poems and songs touching upon the seasonal changes, triggering some of our finest literary and musical flowers.
The songs included on the OUR Recordings CD feature works by several Danish composers. Most Fanfare readers will be familiar with Carl Nielsen, but I suspect the other composers on the disc will be new to many. Perhaps you could mention a few,  and their contributions to the fabric   of Danish music.
Thomas Laub, an organist and hymn reformer, was the instigator of this repertoire. In 1914 he convinced Carl Nielsen, then 50 years of age, that it was worthwhile writing simple songs for all peo- ple to sing. Nielsen disciples, such as Ring and Aagaard, both obsessed by the musical “bringing up” of normal Danes, are crucial in this connection. Many symphonic composers later contributed to this genre, but after 1960 the avant-garde composers seem not to have been interested in this style. Nonetheless many composers (not avant-garde) like Otto Mortensen and Sv. S. Schultz have con- tributed very valuable things.
The vocalists on this disc are members of the DR VokalEnsemblet (Danish National Vocal Ensemble), a remarkable group of singers. Tell us a bit about the history of this ensemble, and about the members it comprises.
The DR VE is a young group, only 10 years old, the result of a reformation and diminishing of the former Radio Choir, in order to make the group be able to tackle early music as well as contem- porary styles. In actual fact this group is asked to sing in all possible styles, including pop music, which they do with great efficiency and accuracy. An excellent group!
Are there any characteristics that distinguish the vocalism of Danish singers, both solo and   in ensemble?
Not really. The DR VE also has many foreigners (mostly other Scandinavians) that quickly must attune themselves to things like the Danish Højskole style. It has been mentioned that Scandinavian choral sound is softer and warmer than American, Polish, or Spanish choral groups. I believe it has a lot to do with the actual situation, the conductor, the acoustics, etc. Myth easily arises in this field.
You prepared several of the beautiful song arrangements for this CD. Did you create these ar- rangements with the talents of the DR VokalEnsemblet in mind?
No. My arrangements were made previously for my recordings with Musica Ficta.
While listening to this recording, I was struck by the marvelous concert acoustic. The recording was made in the Koncertkirken in Copenhagen. Tell us a bit about that concert hall, and what qual- ities made it appropriate for this recording.
Koncertkirken is a fine church (built c. 1900) which was secularized about 10 years ago. The wonderful room is now often used for concerts and recordings (it has very quiet surroundings). It is situated in the middle of Nørrebro, a part of Copenhagen inhabited by immigrants and Danes, finely mixed in a colorful neighborhood!
I suspect many people will share my positive reactions to this recording, and will want to explore more of Denmark’s rich heritage of vocal music. Do you have some suggestions for other repertoire? There are, as mentioned, many recordings available, but for obvious reasons mentioned earlier,
they sadly never travel outside the country. I hope this recording might contribute to breaking the ice for this repertoire internationally.
Your musical career encompasses conducting, composing, and arranging. What projects are on the horizon for you?
Right now I am finishing my ninth opera, Schlagt sie tot, which is about Luther and the Reformation—how Europe was split into two, how religious conflict resulted in 150 years of wars in Europe, what charismatic but erratic spiritual and political leaders might lead to, and how social revolution can be bound up with religion, struggles for power, greed, violence, and the sincere wish to better the world. All the music is based on Luther’s own hymn tunes, although this is barely au- dible. The 160-minute opera for full forces has its premiere at Malmö Opera in May 2019.
 
KEN MELTZER, Fanfare

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
Enthusiastically recommended.
Ken Meltzer, Fanfare USA
31 October 2018
One of my great joys in reviewing recordings for Fanfare is the welcome opportunity to listen to repertoire and/or interpreters I might otherwise never have encountered. Such is the case with The Seasons: 28 Danish Songs, a new release on the OUR Recordings label. The disc comprises a series of songs, mostly from the first half of the 20th century, by various Danish composers. The songs, vi- gnettes of man’s relationship to nature, are divided into the four seasons, which, like Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagioni, progress from spring through winter. The spring portion encompasses seven songs, and summer, nine. The remaining two seasons are accorded six songs apiece. Nature is celebrated throughout this series, with the sea playing a prominent role, as of course, does snow, both in winter and the close of spring. In his liner notes for this release, conductor Bo Holten notes that because of Denmark’s unsettled history during the 19th century, the country lacks the kind of rich folk song tra- dition of its neighbors, Norway and Sweden. Instead, Danish composers wrote a plethora of “nation- al songs” between 1830 and 1960. Carl Nielsen is represented by three songs, alongside the works of other, less famous (at least internationally) Danish composers. However the Danish songs are characterized, their subject matter, traditional tonal foundation, and straightforward melodies make them close cousins of the folk idiom. The Danish songs on this recording are strophic, and tend to focus on a single subject and/or mood. Here, the songs are presented in a cappella arrangements for mixed chorus. And so, we do not have the kind additional narrative perspective provided, for exam- ple, by the piano accompanist in Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin.
I found these songs a delight from start to finish. No doubt, the music itself must take the lion’s share of the credit. But the performances themselves present this music in a most favorable light. 13 of the arrangements are by the conductor on this disc, Bo Holten, an accomplished composer in his own right. For the most part, the arrangements feature a harmonized single vocal line, showcasing the text, and the blended sound of the mixed chorus. (The other arrangements, by various individu- als, take a similar approach.) According to the liner notes, the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, a chamber chorus of 18 members, “is internationally known for its pure, transparent Nordic sound.” Vibrato is applied sparingly (the two soprano solos, in En yndig og frydefuld sommertid and Spurven sidder stum bag qvist, have a decidedly androgynous quality). Such an approach has the potential to make lapses of intonation glaringly apparent, but these artists are consistently spot-on. Under Bo Holten’s direction, the ensemble’s remarkable balance and blending of the voice groups, along with its glowing sonority, are impressive, often breathtaking. The recording, made in Copenhagen’s Koncertkirken, offers an ideal blend of a warm (but not overly resonant) acoustic, vocal and textual detail, and a realistic concert hall perspective. The CD booklet includes essays and artist bios in Danish and English. The original Danish song texts are included, with the English translations ac- cessible via the OUR Recordings website. Illustrations from Flora Danica, Denmark’s comprehen- sive floral atlas, are a fetching complement to the musical proceedings. This is lovely music, beau- tifully and immaculately performed, with first-class production values all around. I’m delighted this disc crossed my path, and I suspect you will be similarly persuaded. Enthusiastically recommended. 
Ken Meltzer, Fanfare USA

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
In short, this is a delightful recording.
Henry Fogel, Fanfare
06 October 2018
There is a strong choral tradition throughout Scandinavia, and this disc is one more representation of that. Årstiderne translates as “The Seasons,” and as is so frequently the case with Scandinavian songs, the subject here is almost exclusively the wonders of nature. Most of these songs are by composers likely to be unknown to even most Fanfare readers, though there are a handful of truly lovely ones by Carl Nielsen. Other composers who stand out include Henrik Rung, Oluf Ring, and Thomas Laub. But the truth is that these songs are all lovely. For the most part they are gentle, lyrical statements with titles such as “Wandering in the Forest,” “Now Leaves Are Glowing in the Groves,” “The Blue Anemone,” and “Awakening (for all the little flowers).”
                      Nothing deeply probing is to be found here, but if there is a place in your musical life for beauty of a mainly mellow sort, this disc provides it. While the booklet only includes Danish texts (along with helpful bi-lingual notes), complete side-by-side Danish-English texts can be downloaded from www.ourrecordings.com. The chorus sings with impeccable intonation and blend, and with a strong sense of involvement. The recorded sound is fairly spacious and distant, assuring that no single voice stands out from that blend. In short, this is a delightful recording.
Henry Fogel, Fanfare
  OUR Recordings
Esromgade 15, opg.1 3.floor, room 1315
2200 Copenhagen N
Denmark
Tel: +45 4015 05 77
E-mail: hannibal@michalapetri.com
QUICK LINKS
NEWS
RELEASES
PROJECTS
COLLABORATORS
CONCERT SCHEDULE
REVIEWS
GALLERIES
  PROFILE

CONTACT

MICHALA PETRI'S WEBSITE
LARS HANNIBAL'S WEBSITE

 

 
   

Home | Contact | Copyright OUR Recordings 2002 - 2019. All rights reserved. | Michala Petri's Official Website | Lars Hannibal's Official Website