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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS
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Plateaux pour piano et orchestre (2005) [37:59]
For Piano (1992) [21:53]
Juho Pohjonen (piano)
Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Ed Spanjaard
rec. Danish Radio Concert Hall, 4-5 October 2007 (Plateaux); 10-11 June 2008 (For Piano). DDD
DACAPO SACD 6.220533 [59:52]

CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS
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Concerto Grosso for string quartet and symphonic ensemble (1990/2006) [29:45]
Moving Still - H.C. Andersen 200 - for baritone and string quartet (2004) [27:02]
Last Ground for string quartet and ocean (2006) [10:05]
Paul Hillier (baritone)
Kronos Quartet (Hank Dutt (viola); David Harrington (violin); John Sherba (violin); Jeffrey Zeigler (cello))
Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
rec. Danish Radio Concert Hall, 12-15 November 2007
DACAPO SACD 6.220548 [66:57]
Experience Classicsonline

The Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen had his 75th birthday in 2007. He has moved through various phases from his early years of being in awe of Bartˇk and Stravinsky to serialism and onwards to the new simplicity.

These two CDs provide an opportunity to address his more recent music.

His Concerto Grosso for string quartet and symphonic ensemble is a work of shreds of ideas, motes of melody and insect-like rhythmic patterning. There is a Rousseau-like jungle hush about this work – something of Villa-Lobos's Amazon. It’s also characterised by minimal means and slender tendrils of sound. We learn from Jens Cornelius that this work is amongst the composer’s longest. We hear a live recording of the famous Kronos quartet and members of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. They gave the premiere in 1990. This is the second revised version. The first one was also on Dacapo 8.224060. The composer says he has become interested in transparency as the years have passed and that is very evident from listening to this piece.

Moving Still was a commission for the H C Andersen bicentenary celebrations in 2005. It's for baritone - here Paul Hillyer – and string quartet. It's a very contrasting diptych in two big segments. There is a nervily iterative minimalist first movement in which words are spoken across the music -much of the narration involves counting. It is followed by a contented and disorientatingly melodic fantasy around a well-loved settings of Andersen's In Denmark I was Born. The string quartet is joined by a taped track where the tenor gentle confides - across right and left tracks - three layers of the song. The piece fades into a shredded harmonic shimmer recalling Kastchei's Garden in The Firebird.

Last Ground is dedicated to the Kronos and is for quartet and recorded sounds of the ocean. The composer spent time on the island of Sams° close to the sea. The work reflects a fascination with the sea's violence. Crashing breakers and the cries of gulls are gradually joined by the pismire moans and groans of the quartet. There is a slow arrival of longer dactyls of melody and these evolve, subtly twist and turn and slide out of focus. The crashing sea returns at 8:34 mixed with instrumental fabric. This is more of a meditation on the sea's violence than a direct reflection of it.

There are two works on the second disc. Plateaux for piano and orchestra is in nine movements just like the hectically detailed piano concerto by the Finn Kimmo Hakola (Ondine). It plays for just short of 38 minutes and the division into movements is unusual for him. Gudmundsen-Holmgreen has written a Violin Concerto and a Cello Concerto and these works are in single continuous stretches. The music in this case is unconventional and is certainly like no other piano concerto I know. It is a series of miniature essays and character sketches. These are minimally instrumented. Brass snarl in terse threat. Little shards of jazzy motifs shudder and slur. Brut (4) sets off a stamping and threatening pattern and there’s even more belligerent snarling from the deep brass. The ruthless piano tramping is a shade of Stravinskian rites. The piano acts as a stony agent provocateur - an inciter to violence. The demeanour of the music changes in the eighth movement where, of a sudden, the music seems to be warmed into congeniality and optimistically sunny confidence. The piano takes on a rhetorical heroic stance. This smile moves into the finale movement En majeur. Those last two movements invoke a collage of the shades of Vaughan Williams, Copland and Mozart (Piano Concerto No. 26). Exciting textures and mystery: what more can you ask? Pairing this with the Hakola would make for a fascinating concert. You could add Luigi Nono's Como una ola de fuerza e luz just for good measure.

For Piano is from 1992 and is his most extensive piece for solo piano. It's in three movements. Stuttering discontinuity and sudden accesses of fluency characterise the music. Lullaby seems about to launch lazily into PMD's Farewell to Stromness but instead rocks gently with smooth-edged skirling and crooning fragments. The final section is more upstart and explosive.

These two separately available SACDs sound startlingly vivid. After all they need to accommodate the crystalline extremes of quiet and the gruff laconic brass attack of works like Plateaux.
Rob Barnett


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