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Frank NORDENSTEN (b. 1955)
Organ Concerto No. 2 (2010) [39:27]
Organ Concerto No. 3 (2012) [37:48]
Dan RenÚ Dahl (organ)
The Norwegian Wind Ensemble/Tore Erik Mohn
Domkirkens Jentekor
Borg Vokalensemble
rec. 2013, Fredrikstad Cathedral, Norway

The Norwegian composer, Frank Nordensten, and his music must feel at home in this recording venue as he was born and grew up in the vicinity of the Cathedral in Fredrikstad, especially with all but the Norwegian Wind Ensemble being based in the town which is south of Oslo. At about the age of ten Nordensten began to learn to play the piano, taking to composing a couple of years later, he entered the State Academy of Music in Oslo in 1975, graduating four years later as an organist. Further studies in composition, orchestration and conducting followed. He is also a composer of electronic music and one of the first Norwegians to use a personal computer to compose music, to facilitate this he built his own studio in 1982. He has written a considerable amount of music across most genres including opera, three symphonies; other than for organ he has composed concertos for violin, for piano and for clarinet, string quartets, vocal music, instrumental music and a good deal of “electro-acoustical” music.

The composer in his booklet notes states that he was shaped musically by the organs of the Cathedral in Fredrikstad, used in this recording, and that of the Glemmen Church, it is no wonder then that the organ has played a major part in his musical output. The fact that Nordensten is an organist who knows the capabilities of this instruments becomes abundantly clear from the opening of the Organ Concerto 2, with its virtuosic flourish setting the scene for the rest of the work. This is a work in which unlike most organ concertos, the organ is almost always present, it plays a prominent role in which the brass supports the organ and there are some wonderful tutti sections where all the instruments rather than being soloist and orchestra, produce a homogenous wall of sound. This is despite the composer talking of the work being in essence a dialogue between the organ and brass orchestra, with the instruments in a way being equal. This is particularly in evidence in the short Scherzo Infernale, where the interplay between the instruments is wonderful.

If the Organ Concerto 2 is purely musical, Organ Concerto 3 could be said to be more metaphysical in its outlook, as the music alludes to the concept of time and the size of the universe. Nordensten does this through the way the nine movements can be seen as separate little tone pictures in which he employs the forces at his disposal, including voices, to portray his vision and that of his friend and poet Rolv M°ll Nilsen to tell a story. He not only uses the Domkirkens Jentekor (the Cathedral's Girls Choir) and Borg Vokalensemble to annunciate the words but also to add a more ethereal effect through the use of wordless chorus. There are some wonderful harmonic developments here, as there are in Concerto 2, and the way that the organ, brass and voices come together, especially in the sixth movement Comet is at times beautiful. This is a work that uses diverse musical techniques in each movement, but one which manages to unite them in a way to produce an engaging whole. My only wish is that the texts and translations of the “small aphorisms” used in the work were included in the booklet, I have been on the Lawo Classics website and there is no sign of them there either.

This is a disc of modern attractive and very approachable music, one in which all performers excel. The organist, Dan RenÚ Dahl is excellent and shows the virtuosic aspects of the works well, as do The Norwegian Wind Ensemble and both vocal ensembles. The engineers have produced a wonderful recorded sound, not much reverberance which can blight recordings made in some churches and cathedrals, but not here. As an introduction to the music and sound world of Frank Nordensten, this disc works really well, as I for one will be searching out further recordings of this interesting composer's music.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Dominy Clements

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