Martin ROMBERG (b.1978)
The tale of Taliesin (2009) [24:57]
Torstein AAGAARD-NILSEN (b.1964)
Bør (2014) [17:59]
Kjell HABBESTAD (b.1955)
Un rêve Norvégien (2002/2015) [28:38]
Ole Asdahl Rokkones (saxophone)
St. Petersburg Northern Sinfonia/Fabio Mastrangelo
rec. Lendok Studios, St. Petersburg, Russia, 2016
LAWO LWC1162 [71:41]
Not a concerto in sight - at least not if we take the titles as determinant. Instead we have three substantial narrative or mood pieces for saxophone and orchestra. They're all by Norwegian composers that I have not, until now, heard of. All were written in the first decade of the new century and were commissioned by Ola Asdahl Rokkones (b. 1983). Rokkones, a highly skilled and evidently sympathetic saxophone player comes from Tromsø in the north of Norway. We are assured that he is one of the few saxophonists with a foot in the classical music and jazz fields; another is the incredibly talented British saxophonist, Jess Gillam. Rokkones has commissioned and premiered music by numerous composers.
The saxophone acts as skald and participant in Martin Romberg's The Tale of Taliesin, which is light of step, catchy, mildly jazzy and skips and cavorts along. The piece ends with a wink and a skip worthy of Saint-Saëns. A single span of 25 minutes, it is the most immediately endearing of the three works here. The music may well be following a legendary narrative but its reputation is made by what we hear not by any extra-musical 'scaffolding'. In this respect it holds the listener dreamily close yet defies sleep. The music is roughly in the same latitude as Johnny Dankworth in his classical concert mode (Clarinet Concerto), Laurie Johnson (Wind in the Willows), David Fanshawe (Tarka the Otter) and Howard Blake (Riddle of the Sands). Intriguing that Romberg should choose, or be chosen by, a Welsh-Celtic legend.
Aagaard-Nilsen's Bør, the most recent work on the disc, is in three movements: "...vekten av det lys..." (The weight of that light); "...som alle begynner å glitre..." (that all starts to glitter); and "...gåten er ikke tid og rom..." (The enigma is not time and space). It is a work of slippery melisma, delicate wails, slides, ululations and experimentation with texture and line. The most advanced of the three pieces, it is also the most resistant to appreciation or, looked at another way, demands deep draughts of sustained concentration from the listener. Until we get to the final section (tr. 4) the line and detail of the music is grindingly hard going. It would not be the reason I would opt to buy or listen to this disc, although Aagaard-Nilsen's composerly workmanship is undeniable. The composer's inspiration lies in the existentialist poem Bør by Stein Mehren.
Un rêve Norvégien is by Kjell Habbestad and across three movements (Insomnium 14:29; Beatitudo 5:15; Visio 8:54) times out to about half an hour. The music while not immediately accessible, holds open a more welcoming and impressive door than the Aagaard-Nilsen. It is inspired and structured by and around the Norwegian 14th century national epic Draumkvaedet - yes, the very same poem set as an ambitious cantata by Eivind Groven (1901-1977) and recorded by Philips on LP 6529 139. (reissued on an Aurora CD). There's also a piano piece of that title by Klaus Egge. The Habbestad work is rhapsodic. Its Messiaen-like sounds take a tart aftertaste from an angular and lightly dissonant orchestra. The final section has a touch of the four-square lumbering and taciturnity of Icelandic composer Jon Leifs. Its stern demeanour and massive impacts suggest the unstable and friable seaboard of a massive glacier. There is a momentary blip in the sound in tr. 5 at 1:35 - just a skip and a gulp in the digital signal.
The very full liner essay is in English only and is by Rokkones and Julia Vladimirova Broido. Very full justice is done to the literary sources and the technical side is in the properly trusted hands of Sean Lewis.