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Morten GAATHAUG (b.1955)
Landskap i måneskinn (syv sanger - texts by Ragnhild Jølsen), op. 97 [26:58]
De profundis for chamber ensemble (words by Federico Garcia Lorca), op. 20b [10:08]
Ridder Dalebu (trad) [6:11]
En Obstfelder-syklus, op. 104 [13:29]
Elegiske fragmenter (words by Rainer Maria Rilke), op. 42 [21:55]
Marianne E. Andersen (mezzo-soprano)
Tore Dingstad (piano)
Jan Koop (cello)
Bjørn Rabben (percussion - slagverk)
David Friedemann Strunck (oboe)
Steinar Granmo Nilsen (French horn)
rec. 2016/17, Sofienberg Church, Oslo

The music of the Norwegian lyric composer Morten Gaathaug has already attended these shores. On that occasion, in 2008, a chamber music disc from 2L was very appreciatively written up by Jonathan Woolf (review).

Here, across a very tightly packed playing time, Gaathaug's songs (in Norwegian - the words and translations for which appear in the Lawo booklet) make a showing that has them in a lineage reaching back to Schubert, Grieg and Sibelius. All this in a delicately modernised idiom. They are subtly picked out on this CD by Marianne Andersen and Tore Dingstad (who played a leading part in the 2L collection). They are to be thanked for the work they invested in making these long songs part of their living repertoire. The singing and playing evinces conviction, flame and cold dignity. I must just single out Min Elskede's skygoe for its minatory overcast funereal insistence and the tireless and classically turbulent Avskjed i Storm.

De profundis is for chamber ensemble and sets words by Lorca to a scorching and chilling dissonance which is completely consonant with the words ‘To remember them / the hundred lovers / sleep forever.’ The effect is intensified by Andersen's oration, and then singing, of the words after her vocalise. Here Gaathaug feels free to adopt a more modern language - perhaps influenced by Ligeti's Grand Macabre and from the art-world Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. By contrast we then come to the witty canter, wink and jog-trot of the traditional Ridder Dalebu. Percy Grainger would surely have loved this.

The five songs of En Obstfelder-syklus add the cello to the piano accompaniment. Gaathaug's language here is more intricately complex - but modestly so - than in Ridder Dalebu. Again, however, the songs present few obstacles to appreciation if the listener is of moderate fortitude. The songs fit well with those that make up Landskap i måneskinn.

The final work is the utterly impressive Elegiske fragmenter in which Gaathaug sets words by Rainer Maria Rilke. There is a beckoning bluesy cool and temperate iciness (yes, I know) to the way this starts. Its fuller instrumental complement (piano, cello, percussion, oboe and French horn) add embraceable layers of meaning to Andersen's consistently outstanding singing. The music often joys in the sound of the tango¸ Spanish atmosphere, death hunt gallops and stinging nostalgia. The music is in a single span and a single 22-minute track.

Andersen has a fine, full, high and silvery voice very much in keeping with the considerable demands Gaathaug places; the other musicians likewise.

Andersen and Dingstad are pictured in the well-composed photo that adorns the cover of this CD. Gaathaug is one of those composers known only to the cognoscenti (I was not one of that number) whose music needs its profile building. His songs chart slow evolving bleakness, potency, subtlety and sorrowing beauty.

I live in hopes that we will next get to hear the two oboe concertos and the concertino for accordion and orchestra. Gaathaug is one of Norway's lively, challenging yet tonally virile musical assets - a treasure.

Rob Barnett



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