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Alice Musik Produktion of Sweden (full details from

Albert de RIPPE Fantasias & Chansons Peter Söderberg (Renaissance Lute)
Alice Musik Produktion ALCD 022 [57.19]

The Contemporary Lute Peter Söderberg & Sven Aberg
Alice ALCD004

Amando & Desiando Akantus Spanish & Italian music from the 16th Century
Alice ALCD 1010 [68 mins]

I'vo piangendo Akantus Music from 17th Century Italy
Alice ALCD 017 [65 mins]

Schola Buccina Music for Trombone Ensemble
ALICE ALCD 008 [37.40]

Claude Loyola ALLGÉN Fantasia Mats Persson (piano)
ALICE ALCD 020 [49 mins]

Alice Musik Produktion of Sweden has an interesting CD catalogue of early and 20th C. music, all meticulously presented and packaged with imagination, latterly in book-style cases. Several of those supplied for review feature the lutenist Peter Söderberg.

Albert de Rippe (d.1551) was born in Mantua and active as a court lutenist there, later from 1528 in France, from where his travels took him to England and the court of Henry VIII. He was an innovative composer but avoided publication to thwart imitators. A substantial body of his music was published posthumously by Morley & le Roy and influenced Denis Gaultier and Charles Mouton. De Rippe's pieces are often contrapuntal, highly ornamented and extended to as long as 10 minutes, three times the usual. The liner notes by Teddy Hultberg challenge the easy assumption that we can hear this music with 16 C ears, however dedicated the search towards authenticity. Most listeners today are more likely to find it cool, though pleasing, and may be reluctant to turn the volume control down far enough to recapture the sound of this very private instrument, in many ways ideal for home listening.

The enterprising lutenist Peter Söderberg is an excellent guide to this rare music. In the two Akantus CDs, Amando & Desiando, a programme of Spanish & Italian music from the 16th C. and I'vo piangendo Akantus, music from 17th Century Italy, Söderberg (lute & vihuela) and Leif Henrikson (viols) are joined by an individual, pure voiced soprano, Lena Susanne Norin. These are the CDs of likely widest appeal of those I have sampled.

Large parts of Italy were under Spanish domination and musicians migrated freely between those countries. Spain preferred the vihuela and guitar, whilst the rest of Europe preferred the lute, introduced by the Arabs earlier. Many of the songs collected here are frottole, a generic name for a variety of poetic forms. Of the composers of the 29 tracks, many are anonymous and only the names of Tromboncino and Mudarra were known to me, so a complete track list would be superfluous to the needs of most MusicWeb readers, as often is the case for CDs of this period.

The later release, of 17th C. Italian music, is my own favourite. Lena Susanne Norin, supported by Söderberg and Henrikson, wallows in unhappy love and revels in the elaborate decorative vocal lines of these extravagances, and the sequence of songs is varied with instrumental duets. Frescobaldi & d'India are the best known names of the composers featured, and it is well worth making the acquaintance of Dario Costello, Bellerofonte Castaldi and Hieronmymous Kapsberger, who has an amazing 7 mins Toccata. The singing, playing and recording is again of the highest standard and the packaging is in an inviting plum-covered book with a series of essays providing a mine of information.

Peter Söderberg has also for Alice Records a disc of 20th C. lute music, in duo with fellow lutenist Sven Aberg. Mostly the chosen works are arrangements, of variable success. Cage's early Dream (1948) originally explored long lines and an atemporal character on the piano. That is here augmented with interpolations on bass viol. Stockhausen's Tierkreis (1975) 'for any instruments or singers' have a built in prescription for repetitions elaborated by the musicians. They are rather dry and I would not recommend playing all 13 straight through. Steve Reich's Piano Phase goes through his seminal transformation process slowly, and they probably go as well on two theorbos as anything, but I found 27 minutes exhausted my patience long before the end. We are told nothing about Ingvar Karkoff (b 1958) who contributes two new duets for these players. A range of lutes, archlutes and theorbos are played in a programme which will be especially stimulating for other players of early instruments. (It would be good if it encouraged a similar exploration of the contemporary possibilities for my own instrument, the clavichord, which shares the lute's precious quietness and some of its tonal characteristics.)

Schola Buccina is 'the leading trombone ensemble of Sweden' (we are not told what is the competition). Their programme of short pieces is, I fear, strictly for trombonists, as monotony inevitably sets in quite soon for the ordinary listener. There are arrangements of Dufay, via Desprez and Monteverdi, to ten canons by J S Bach BWV 1087 (a curiosity recently discovered with the original manuscript of the Goldberg Variations in France) and Beethoven's Three Equali scored prudently for trombones on a rainy morning, for outdoor performance at a funeral later that day! There is also an Improvisation on a Flourish from an opera by one Torsten Nilsson (b. 1920).

Born the same year was the was the maverick Swedish composer Claude Loyola ALLGÉN (1920-1990) who produced music over a fifty year span but never fitted into the Swedish establishment and, according to his pianist champion's lengthy essay and interview here, was subject to 'malignant slander bordering on persecution'. Born in Calcutta, living mainly in Stockholm, Allgén became a devoted converted Catholic who studied theology in Innsbruck but failed to get ordained. Nearly unmentioned in standard texts about Swedish music, the remarks of Blomdahl are often quoted: 'a hyper-intellectual theorist who wrote fugues - - - at nearly unplayable tempi'. Whenever Mats Persson tried to get a sight of the scores he was confronted with assertions that they were unplayable.

Persson found him living in extreme poverty and heard his story. Mainly self taught, he had a few lessons with Hilding Rosenberg, who was less than enthusiastic. He continued composing indefatigably, antagonising those who mattered and living in increasing isolation and destitution. He was not admitted to the Association of Swedish Composers until belatedly in 1973. He died in a fire at home which destroyed many of his scores including a final Saxophone Quartet entitled Horror vacui (Abhorrence of emptiness).

The pianist admits to disappointment on first acquaintance with the Fantasia, some 50 minutes of 'disparate material which sprawled stylistically in all directions' with 'windows' of unrelated sections, a 'Chopin 'window', an 'obvious Habanera' - but beware, Allgén, a habitual debunker, puts a Latin footnote which translates "- - ignorant chatterboxes will say Spain - - everyone succumbs when faced with ignorance". Melodies return, maybe with Bartok rhythms, at another time supported by arpeggio figures. 'Violent arpeggio movements' release 'bundles of energy' explosively.

The composer set himself the task of writing a virtuosic major work, which evolved intuitively - 'I just make it up' - from a 1955 version half the length of this later one (I have not discovered its date) recorded posthumously in 1998. Persson has persuaded himself that it is really 'unified and complex'; I have been unable to do so, but would hesitate to condemn it out of hand. It may well appeal to collectors of 'outsider' composers, for some of whom their time comes eventually. (Seen&Heard is grasping the opportunity this summer to cover a festival in Portugal which will feature important composers, once thought eccentrics and still not quite household names in UK, including Scelsi & Ohana.) Allgén's music is mainly tonal and the piano writing not too avant-garde (no diving inside the piano for special effects). If you have warmed to Sorajbi or Alan Bush, possible equivalents in British Music, and to transatlantic individualists like Ives & Nancarrow, this Fantasia might be worth trying for something different.

Allgén's Fantasia is graced by Alice's impressive production values, convincingly played, impeccably recorded and supplied with comprehensive background information in English translation, a labour of love encased in a stylish book case, which invites exploration of its contents.

Alice Produktion deserves support for its determination to explore music old and new off the beaten track, always presented attractively with maintenance of high production values.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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