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rjan MATRE (b. 1979)
Konsert for Orkerster (2014) [62:58]
Pegter Herresthal (violin)
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Peter Szilvay
rec. 2017, Oslo Concert Hall

rjan Matre is a composer with the wind in his sails, having won numerous awards including the 2015 TONO Composer’s Prize, the Norwegian equivalent to the Grammy, for the release PreSage & Violin Concerto which also involved Peter Herresthal, on that occasion with the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra.

Matre’s Concerto for Orchestra is an odd construction in the form it takes here. The first sounds you hear on the recording are those of an audience arriving or settling down, accompanied by the timbres of Arne Norheim’s bell composition for the Oslo Concert Hall. There are nine further movements or sections, the concepts of ‘concert’ and ‘concerto’ explored and overlapping both in the spatial and chronological nature of the work as ‘programme’. A theatrical Intrada with offstage brass instruments and filigree orchestral textures is followed by a lively and intensely energetic Overture, with hammer-blow percussion and ostinato being thrown around the orchestra. The booklet notes outline a version in which the orchestra was already playing as the audience entered the hall, and the solo violinist played the first bars of Matre’s Violin Concerto while standing in the stalls. In other words, boundaries are blurred and the nature of concert conventions are distorted to become part of the substance of the score.

Knowing all this it’s a shame this isn’t an SACD recording, but the stereo effect is pretty good at giving clues as to the distance and location of instruments, or at least an illusion that satisfies the mind. I tend to listen through headphones, and this is a strikingly effective and dramatic experience.

The Overture is followed by Violin Concerto, each movement flowing into the next to create a whole, but each with its own distinctive identity. The Violin Concerto is at times a battle between soloist and orchestra, and at others a sublime blend of subtle orchestration, in which the notes of the violin are reinforced (for instance) by the rich upper harmonics of tuned percussion. The mood here is dark, but also poetic – the imagination conjuring a traversal of gloomy and at times threatening landscapes that also have their own compelling beauty – a beauty that is stronger by the end of the movement, as the music decays in its own bell-like echoes.

There is now an Intermission, with audience chatting with undertones of orchestral sounds, and the call-back bells leading us into preSage Revisited. The original preSage was written as a concert opener to a performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and echoes from that work can be heard in this striking movement, filled as it is with “sudden shifts [and] cinematic cuts...” This is followed by Lament/Berceuse, an atmospheric movement in which the strings have a plush, at times quasi Straussian leading role around which other instruments have their slow dance. The comes a Minuet, the dance of which is a scherzo-like play of instruments bouncing off or responding to each other. Matre’s transparent orchestration is punctuated by dramatic accents, but the atmosphere is light and suggestive rather than intense and emphatic. This is held in reserve for the Finale, a noisy but multi-layered spectacular in which the brass section returns both in climactic triumph, as well as giving commentary from the sidelines on an orchestra occupied by its own inner dialogues. This propels us into a final Epilogue which, with its violin solo moments and offstage brass, harks back over what we’ve heard in terms of timbre, but with its own distinctive de-tuned motief and atmosphere of poignant lament for things past.

rjan Matre’s Concerto for Orchestra is a magnificent listening experience, and with superb recording and performance comes highly recommended. Yes, this is contemporary music, but its edge is one that stimulates the follicles rather than cuts the epidermis. If it can hold even jaded old reviewers on the edge of their seats, then maybe it will have the same effect on you.

Dominy Clements

Previous review: Richard Hanlon



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