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Rolf WALLIN (b. 1957)
Under Skin City (2009/2017) [28:44]
Appearances (2003/2007) [23:37]
Eivind BUENE (b. 1973)
Miniatures (2009/2016) [9:21]
Violin Concerto (2013-16) [21:43]
Peter Herresthal (violin)
Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra (Under Skin City)
Arctic Philharmonic Sinfonietta/Øyvind BjorÅ
rec. 2016, Stormen Concert Hall, Bodø; Concert Hall of the Music Conservatory of the Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø (Under Skin City).
BIS BIS-2242 SACD [83:59]

This well-filled release is a cornucopia of fascinating new music from the far north. In Under City Skin Rolf Wallin has reinvented the concerto grosso, adding a sophisticated soundtrack to a solo violin and strings sonority that at times deliberately reminds us of something like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The soundtrack consists of noises from the city, in its first movement the music being driven by the pulse of footfalls. An atmospheric second movement opens with the gaseous fumes of a car’s engine, from which the strings emerge, muted and nocturnal, the solo violin portraying something avian and pastoral far above the strangeness below. Enigmatic animal sounds are overtaken by typewrites and a heavy goods train as the third movement takes the strings into an ostinato that might have had a whiff of Steve Reich about it had not Wallin’s open harmonies their own strongly individual identity. With a hint of police sirens this turns into a cinematic chase, Wallin’s “urban beast” also projecting disturbing Triffid-like sounds to add to the drama. The fourth and final movement briefly recalls the footsteps of the opening, now squelching through something muddy. Watery and amorphous, this finale hints and suggests at space and time rather than resolving the questions thrown up by the previous movements. As Tom Service’s notes indicate, the solo violin “takes the rest of the strings into a place where they have become one with the city”, and at its conclusion the essence of both appears strangely united.

Wallin describes Appearences as “about this feeling of appearance and reappearance - there’s not very much more than that in the piece!” There is a simultaneous spacious transparency and a fluent intensity to this work that demands more than one hearing to discover its secrets. The 15 instruments are at the composer’s bidding as they develop repeated note figures, filigree glissandi and altered timbres such as breath sounds, though the core of the material is in more or less conventional playing. Wallin follows his instinct in answering the question as to “what do I want to hear from the ensemble?” He also conjures Darwinist evolutionary principles in evolving his material, but also referring to Burgess Shale, in which strange sidelines and ultimate rejects from the tree of life have been found. This is detailed and deeply considered composing, but like the nut cracked to expose its contents to daylight for the first time ever, you’ll need to look closely to appreciate its tricky uniqueness of colours and contours, rather than just popping in your mouth without a moment’s thought.

Eivind Buene’s six Miniatures are little studies or explorations, “just having a strange idea, and throwing it out there.” As relief from working on larger scale pieces these are a kind of refuge, but also a place for odd stream-of-consciousness discoveries, and there is indeed a feeling of surrealism to instrumentations that conjure an air of mystery, to simple concepts such as the working out of a two-part invention or a simple scale, but with peculiarly inhibited restraint, edgy timbres and a consistent feeling of explosions waiting to happen.

The Miniatures act as a good prelude to the Violin Concerto, the spectral qualities of which include the ghost of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto in the first of three movements. These movements are substantial, but have their own miniaturist tendency in being each scored for different ensembles, and able to be performed separately. Buene’s feel for “the gossamer strains of spectres – musical, poetic [and] creative” is reflected in the titles for these three movements: Falling Angels, Sound Asleep, and Among Voices of the Dead. The last of these titles is also a clue to the whole, with this phrase being Buene’s view on “writing notated music for classical musicians in today’s world.” He feels the weight of tradition both in the creative process and in the genre of the violin concerto, but has found his own way of turning it into something new and personal. The second movement is rich in restless overtones, the soloist barely perceptible from among his colleagues in the orchestra. The third movement takes us straight back to Berg, and indeed J.S. Bach in the chorale Es ist genug used in the final movement of Berg’s Violin Concerto. Buene doesn’t treat this to variations, but with the idea of “crossing the threshold of death” firmly implanted in our minds the darkly suggestive imagery in the music is haunting indeed.

Peter Herresthal plays both of the concertos with consummate skill, and the Arctic Philharmonic players are clearly world class. With BIS’s superb SACD sound this is a package of new music that, like that unique and delicious nut, needs to be snapped up quickly and digested at length.

Dominy Clements

 

 




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