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Niels ROSING-SCHOW (b.1954)
Archipel des solitudes for mezzo soprano, choir and orchestra*
(1992) for winds, harp, piano and percussion+
Hanne Fischer (mezzo-soprano)
Danish National Radio SO/Leif Segerstam
* recorded Copenhagen Dec 1995 + recorded Copenhagen Sept 1999
DA CAPO 8.224163 [53.19]
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Rosing-Schow's music is uncompromising, dark, challenging and often hard on the ears! In this respect, it has a lot in common with many, many other composers who have emerged in the past ten years. This is apparent within the first seconds of Archipel des solitudes, the composer's seven movement setting of texts by the French poet Gilles Gourdon. The mezzo soloist struggles to make herself heard against torrents of sound from screaming wind and brass, and, naturally, a vast array of percussion, pitched and unpitched. (It would be so impressive to find a young(ish) composer prepared to compose an orchestral work with a tiny percussion section, or none at all.)

Though the stressful, catastrophic atmosphere persists throughout the piece, the composer's personal voice does gradually emerge. He has an undoubted ear for orchestral texture, and there are passages of real beauty. Yet still the voice part seems 'tacked on', almost an afterthought. The most successful movements, I felt, were the two which were entirely orchestral, raising the question of whether Gourdon's intimate verse was really suitable for treatment on this huge scale.

The purely instrumental work which fills the disc - Windshapes for wind, harp, piano and percussion - seemed to me an altogether more successful and satisfying piece. The first movement, Windswept Landscape, contrasts slow moving music in brass with delicate staccato in woodwind, while the second, Sand Drift, develops a colossal energy and momentum. This is interesting, impressive music, with compelling visual suggestiveness, as you find in, for example, Debussy.

Rosing-Schow's music is new to me, so I have to say that, despite my reservations about Archipel, overall I was excited by this disc. The performers do a great job; Fischer is a splendidly secure and committed vocal soloist, and Segerstram and the Danish NRSO play superbly throughout. Recording quality is excellent.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

Niels Rosing-Schow (born 1954) is one of Denmark's leading contemporary composers.

I look forward (but without much hope) to the day when programme notes accompanying contemporary music are written in plain English. Or could it be that in the nature of things this is impossible? The composer's career, we are told here, 'took its point of departure in the "New Simplicity" of the 1970s' (or the 1960s, as later asserted), and he 'seeks to explore different ways in which music that acknowledges the tenets of modernism can still reconquer the great musical spaces without resorting to the ready-made options that are available to adherents of the main compositional currents.' Does this opaque statement mean simply that the composer seeks to express himself in an individual voice?

Still, one readily acknowledges that Rosing-Schow does possess an individual voice, and the sleeve note is right to draw attention to his 'fascinating timbres and seductive instrumental colouring.' This is avant-garde music, certainly, but its sound-world is not totally alien to that of mainstream tonal music.

This is better revealed in Windshapes (1992) - three 'orchestral pictures' entitled Windswept Landscape, Sand Drift and Erosion, scored for woodwind, harp, piano and percussion. In essence, the work has something in common with Debussy's La Mer: impressionistic rather than pictorial, it shares also the clarity of texture which is the hallmark of that composer's seminal work.

Clarity of texture and distinctive orchestral timbres also characterise Archipel des solitudes (1992). Alas, this is a setting for mezzo-soprano, chorus and orchestra of yet more 'what is the meaning of life?' poems (by the Frenchman, Gilles Gourdon), to which contemporary composers are irresistibly drawn. Here is an extract from the text: 'Tired ice-fern,/Sudden fracture. Hair knot of torrents/ Loosened. Pulse of the pebbles precipitous,/The jars of the night revealed.' Would not the following alternative text with words chosen at random have served equally well: 'Blunt hacksaw/Blood spewed. Prunes at work/Later. Celebrity junked/ Get a good plumber'?

Performance and recording faultless but this is perhaps a disc only for devotees of 'The New Simplicity'.

Adrian Smith

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