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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

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
best of all, the music and performances are gorgeous – lovely late-night listening.
Michael Wilkinson, MusicWeb International
05 October 2018
There are three good reasons for buying this CD: it is a fascinating introduction to an important aspect of Danish music; it shows how the choral music of Nielsen belongs within a significant tradition; best of all, the music and performances are gorgeous – lovely late-night listening.

Denmark has relatively few old folk songs, but part-singing has always been popular, both in public performance and in domestic settings. The country in its modern form came into existence in 1849; Danish nationalism led to the peaceful formation of a constitutional monarchy, though in 1864, Schleswig and Holstein were ceded to Prussia, following Denmark’s military defeat. The songs produced between 1830 and 1960, often nationalistic and patriotic, reflected delight in the Danish landscape. Carl Nielsen was an important part of the movement, as his various songs attest. Three are found on the current recording. Hvor sødt i sommer-aftenstunden is perhaps the most striking in its austere beauty.  Those interested in more of his songs might profitably explore Da Capo 8.226112, a collection of some of his songs – of more than three hundred – sung by Danish National Choirs, including the National Vocal Ensemble, which I chose as a Recording of the Month in 2016 (review). The Nielsen songs here are delightful, but companion pieces are not overshadowed.

The songs across the collection, divided by season, are frequently austere in style – emotions are not worn on the sleeve in an excess of sentiment. Each is very brief. They are more powerful for such simplicity. Many of the songs are homophonic, with repeated verses. Where there is polyphony, it is applied with a light touch. Take for example En yndig og frydefuld sommertid (Kærlighedrosen), with a beautiful soprano solo by Malene Nordtrop – who sings also Spurven sidder stum bag kvist in the Winter section. The simplicity and innocence of diction is deeply moving.

Bo Holten is a specialist in this repertoire: the Danish Vocal Ensemble are superb collaborators. The nineteen voices confidently remain light-hued and deeply sensitive, able to provide subtle variety without drawing attention to their artfulness.

Texts are provided in Danish; translations are available from the company’s website. 
Michael Wilkinson, MusicWeb International

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
"Som Perler på en snor" 5 stars
Peter Dürrfeld, Kristeligt Dagblad
01 October 2018
5 stars
”Som perler på en snor”
I denne måned runder komponisten, korspecialisten og dirigenten Bo Holten70 år. Han har unægtelig mange bedrifter på sit cv, i flæng kan nævnes operaerne ”Gesualdo” (der netop er udkommet på dvd) og ”Livlægens besøg” fra 2008, der omhandler det dramatiske hændelsesforløb i Struense-perioden omkring 1700.
Denne runde fødselsdag bliver blandt andet markeret med en koncert dagen forinden, søndag den 21. oktober klokken 16 i Koncertkirken på Nørrebro, hvor Bo Holten dirigerer koret Musica Ficta i en række egne værker.
Har man ikke mulighed for at tage til Blågårds Plads den dag, kan man i stedet glæde sig over en cd med titlen ”Årstiderne”, som for nylig er udsendt af det eminente pladeselskab OUR Recordings.
Her dirigerer Bo Holten DR VokalEnsemblet i hele 28 danske sange med en samlet spilletid på cirka 68 minutter.
Man vil forstå, at sangene kommer som perler på en snor, og at det ikke her er muligt at nævne hver eneste perle i de fire årstider.
Men et par eksempler vil give en idé om udvalgets beskaffenhed. Blandt forårssangene kan nævnes ”Nu lyser løv i lunde” og ”Den blå anemone”, mens sommeren er repræsenteret med hel ni sange, heriblandt ” Jeg ser de bøgelyse øer” og ”Danmark nu blunder den lyse nat”.
Efterårsstemninger indfinder sig markant med titler som ”Blæsten går frisk over Limfjorden vande” og ”Septembers himmel er så blå”, og også vinteren byder på gamle kendinge som ”Der er ingenting i verden så stille som sne” og ”Sneflokke kommer vrimlende”.
Kort sagt et fyldigt og håndplukket udvalg fra den danske sangskat, serveret af et veloplagt kor og en mester i netop det repertoire, fornemt indspillet i Koncertkirken i februar i år og med alle tekster gengivet i det smukke teksthæfte.
Det sidste er værd at hæfte sig ved, al den stund en række af Danmarks ypperligste digtere er repræsenteret.
Peter Dürrfeld, Kristeligt Dagblad

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
9/9/9: Für den unbefangenen deutschen Hörer klingen diese Gesänge wie echte Volkslieder
Ekkehard Pluta, Klassik Heute
14 September 2018
Anders als Norwegen oder Schweden hat Dänemark keine eigene Volksliedtradition und diesem Mangel wurde in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts durch die Produktion von nationalen Gesängen abgeholfen, die an deren Stelle traten, zum Schulkanon gehörten und durchaus eine gewisse Popularität erlangten. Die Autoren und Komponisten sind außerhalb Dänemarks kaum bekannt geworden, sieht man einmal von der zentralen Figur Carl Nielsen ab.
Michala Petris Label OUR Recordings hat 28 dieser Lieder unter dem Titel “Årstiderne” (Jahreszeiten) zusammengestellt und durch das international renommierte 18köpfige Vokal-Ensemble des Dänischen Rundfunks einspielen lassen. Für den unbefangenen deutschen Hörer klingen diese Gesänge wie echte Volkslieder, wobei durch den vierstimmigen a-cappella-Gesang, aus dem die Sopran- und Bassstimmen herausragen, denen sich die in einer Mittellage notierten Alt- und Tenorstimmen harmonisch anschmiegen, gelegentlich eine beinahe sakrale Atmosphäre einstellt, vor allem bei den Winterliedern. Doch ein heiter-beschwingter, fast tänzerischer Duktus herrscht vor.
In der Kopenhagener Koncertkirken aufgenommen, deren nur leichter Nachhall der Transparenz des Vortrags keinen Abbruch tut, kommen die stimmlichen Qualitäten des Ensembles, das aus lauter Solisten zu bestehen scheint, die sich zu einem homogenen Gesamtklang verbinden, gut zur Geltung. Der Chorleiter Bo Holten hält sie zudem zu einem rhythmisch pointierten Singen an.
Diese Lieder gehen auch dem deutschen Hörer sehr gefällig ins Ohr. Da die gesungenen Texte im Booklet nur auf dänisch abgedruckt sind, muß er sich allerdings die Mühe machen, die englische Übersetzung im Internet (unter http://www.ourrecordings.com/) abzurufen.
Ekkehard Pluta, Klassik Heute

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
This ensemble´s lightness of touch and exquisite detail are revealed best in Laub´s “Stille, Hjerte, sol går ned”
Andrew Mellor, Gramophone
03 September 2018
Gramophone (UK)
Nordic humility combined with Danish plain speaking to take the country´s unique song tradition in a new direction in the first decades of the 20th century. The organist and composer Thomas Laub, was rewriting the country´s hymnbook along rigorous anti-Romantic lines and developing a new form of secular song that resonated with the emerging Højskole movement. Laub had an ally in Carl Nielsen, whose desire to move Denmark away from German “gravy and grease” pervaded community song as much as symphonies. Plenty of other composers joined him.
Bo Holten´s work tending this tradition and its various tributaries has made him something of a national treasure. Here he presents a selection of 28 songs sifted along seasonal lines. A good example of Laub´s principles at work in Nielsen´s music is found in the ode to the sun “Hvor sødt i sommer-aftenstunden” (Text by Adam Oehlenschläger) with its austere but beautiful harmonies.
Often the songs are homophonic with repeated verses, but as in Nielsen`s better-known “Nu lyser løv I lunde” the Danish National Vocal Ensemble shows how colour can be adjusted to create a journey nonetheless. Just as often there are lightly polyphonic arrangements, as in Hans Hansen´s “ For alle de små blomster”. There is more gentle sophistication in Oluf Ring´s autumnal “Sig nærmer tiden”, famously covered by Denmarks´s folk-rock hero Kim Larsen.
This ensemble´s lightness of touch and exquisite detail are revealed best in Laub´s “Stille, Hjerte, sol går ned” and in the tripping textures of Nielsen´s “Se dig ud en sommerdag”, even if the passing chromatic harmonies are sometimes smudged. Plenty here reveals the essence of so much 20th-and 21st-century Danish music; the booklet contains no translation from the Danish text, although English translations are available from the record company´s website. 
Andrew Mellor, Gramophone

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
The Secret Mass
Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů
The Danish performance is very moving in its own right and it completes a highly satisfying programme
William Hedley, Music Web International UK
07 August 2018
Music Web International
Every sensible person knows that league tables – for hospitals, schools etc. – are absurd things that help nobody. This certainly applies to music and musicians. But here goes. I think Frank Martin’s Double-Choir Mass deserves a place right at the pinnacle of the a cappella choral music league table.

The title of this disc is The Secret Mass, an appropriate one given that Martin said of the work that it was a matter between himself and God, which in turn probably explains why he withheld the work from performance and publication for four decades. Martin’s father was a Calvinist pastor, and the composer’s religious faith and the nature of his upbringing colours his music. There is something of the ascetic about much of it, but it would be a mistake to think of the composer, or his Mass, as cold. On the contrary, the extreme fervour of his religious belief is present in every note of the work, but it is kept under tight control, to the extent that many passages threaten to break the bonds of what is possible to express in music.

The Mass is composed for two four-part choirs, with multiple divisions within each choir. The score is liberally peppered with tempo and expression marks, but there is not a single metronome value given, leaving tempi very much to the performers. One of the many strengths of this magnificent performance is that Marcus Creed’s tempo choices are judicious – though one means by this, inevitably, that they are what this particular listener wants to hear. Another strength, however, is that he is scrupulous about following the composer’s indications. So, when Martin marks in the score that a given passage should go “a little faster”’ or “with more insistence” Creed takes note and respects the marking. Only in one place, the opening of the Sanctus, do I find his tempo too slow for Martin’s “With movement but very calm”, but there’s no denying that the chosen tempo allows this magnificent choir to build up to a gloriously sonorous and passionate climax. At a few other points the conductor inserts tempo changes that the composer does not ask for. The ‘Christe eleison’ goes faster than the ‘Kyrie’, for example, and the music surges forward at the words ‘Confiteor unum baptisma’ (Credo) following a particularly wise tempo choice for the preceding passage. The only instance of this that bothered me was the sudden slowing down a minute or so before the end of the work, in the sublime ‘Agnus Dei’, composed four years later than the rest of the work. How pleasing, though, to hear the second choir breathing with the first, giving shape and musical sense to the monophonic chant with which it supports the first choir’s glorious melodic lines.

The Mass is very demanding of its performers, and the five Songs of Ariel even more so. The idiom is more advanced and the choir is, again, frequently divided. The texts, all from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, frequently demand pictorial effects and Martin does not shirk them. Dogs bark and bells ring with remarkable gusto in ‘Come unto these yellow sands’, and as for ‘Where the bee sucks, there suck I’, you’ll be wanting to take out the fly swat. All these effects are dispatched with remarkable brilliance and precision by the singers. The strangeness of Shakespeare’s play is well retained by Martin’s music. The real meat of the piece is the dramatic fourth song, a setting of Ariel’s long speech from Act 3 in which he reprimands the three noblemen who have betrayed Prospero and warns them of their future fate. The alto solo part is superbly taken by Hanna-Maria Strand.

Heard immediately after the Martin, the greater simplicity of Martinů’s Four Songs of the Virgin Mary is evident. It might even seem dryer, with fewer divisions within the choir. These are, however, lovely pieces that will surely bring pleasure to lovers of choral music, just as they do to me. The four songs are settings of Czech folk texts, and the composer’s aim was clearly simplicity of utterance. The music is solidly tonal with a firm hold on dissonance and little counterpoint. The words are clearly audible, therefore, and, though I am not a Polish speaker, the choir seems to have mastered that difficult language very well. You can follow the original text in the booklet, but not, sadly, at the same time as reading the English translation as they are not printed side by side. So it’s a good idea to read the texts first, particularly of the third song where the new-born Christ, responding to a comment from his mother who is presumably hungry following labour, offers to catch fish in the river! A comic text, then, simple and unsophisticated, and it’s a measure of the composer’s skill that by the music he finds to accompany the text, simple and unsophisticated in its turn, he achieves something strangely moving.

Romance from the Dandelions is one of four choral works, usually referred to as cantatas, that the homesick Martinů, exiled in the United States, composed in the 1950s. A young girl waits seven long years for her beloved to come home from the war. She is represented in this unaccompanied work by a solo soprano, beautifully taken here by Klaudia Kidon. A brief passage of march rhythm is tapped out on a drum, but the work is otherwise unaccompanied. The composer is skilful at alternating solo passages and those of the choir, and the work, though melancholy throughout, is varied in texture and often very beautiful. All four cantatas appear on a Supraphon disc (SU4198-2) where the superb Prague Philharmonic Chamber Choir is conducted by Lukaś Vasilek and the march rhythms are tapped out on a chair! Martinů enthusiasts will not let this disc pass them by. The Danish choir’s singing is more sensuous, arguably less authentic. There is less feeling of dramatic movement than in the Czech performance. But this is only evident in straight comparative listening. The Danish performance is very moving in its own right and it completes a highly satisfying programme.
William Hedley, Music Web International UK

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
The Secret Mass
Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů
the singers deliver performances that capture the restrained radiance of these lovely works.
Jan Smaczny, BBC Music Magazine
03 August 2018

Frank martin turned reticence about the public exposure of his music into a fine art. His Mass for two choirs was composed in 1922, but did not see the light of day until 1963 and then only because of the German conductor Franz Brunnert. Why so coy? The Kyrie with its sinuous modal choral lines has immediate appeal. The Gloria shows a certain affinity with the double choir motets of Bach, but the result is individual and also engaging.
Composed nearly 30 years later, Martin´s atmospheric settings of familiar verse from Shakespeare´s The Tempest shares the post-impressionist world of the Mass, but with a rather sharper edge. In both works, the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, directed by Marcus Creed, produces an excellently-integrated sound, although they might have been bolder in defining climatic phrases in the longer movements.
Both of the Martinu works recorded here have strong folk roots. While outwardly simple, the Four Songs for Mary, composed in 1934, go well beyond their initial, folk-songs inspiration with rich harmonies and a clear blend of depth and humour. The Romance of the Dandelions belongs to a group of cantatas composed toward the end of his life and rich in nostalgia for his youth in the Bohemian-Moravian highland. The textures are more experimental, with choral humming and an extensive solo for soprano, beautifully sung her. The choir´s Chech declamation could be more pointed, but overall the singers deliver performances that capture the restrained radiance of these lovely works. 
Jan Smaczny, BBC Music Magazine
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