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Ketil HVOSLEF (b. 1939)
Chamber Works VI
Trombonekvartett (Trombone Quartet) (1994, rev. 2012) [12:03]
Klarinettkvintett (Clarinet Quintet) (1982) [16:17]
Hardingtrio for Soprano, Hardanger Fiddle and Piano (1995)
Hardingtrio I [5:02]
Hardingtrio II [3:27]
Hardingtrio III [8:21]
Trio for tretten (Acotral) (1987) [13:53]
Hvoslef Chamber Music Project, Ricardo Odriozola
rec. 2017, Gunnar Sævigs Sal, The Grieg Academy, Bergen; NRK Radio Concert Hall, Oslo, Norway
LAWO LWC1180 [59:07]

I have thoroughly enjoyed the first five of this proposed nine volume series, so I was more than happy to review this disc too. The music of Ketil Hvoslef is difficult to fit into any pigeonhole, as he displays a breadth of differing styles in every work. It is fair to say however, that whatever compositional approach he adopts, the results are always dynamic and energetic. That leads to an interesting and accessible selection of chamber works, never mind their modernity, and this disc is no different. Not only do we engage here with some of Hvoslef’s strangest music, but we encounter some of his most hauntingly beautiful.

The disc opens with, not as one might expect, a bombast from the four trombones. Rather, we get the more plaintive side of the instruments, although the composer builds up the tension in the way he uses short notes to construct the theme. Only then do we get the blaring tones, but even then, they are on the sombre side, and are soon contrasted with some very quiet phrasing. This is interspersed with short bright sections before returning to the quieter passages with excellent playing of the trombonists asked to sustain very quiet long notes.

On the other hand, the Clarinet Quintet’s sweeping opening is, at times, what one might have expected from the piece for trombones; brisk passages offer an echo of klezmer clarinet set against the strings. Yet here too we get a contrasting middle section, more melodic and tender at times, before the return of the opening music.

This is not my favourite among the already released discs, but it contains the most memorable works. The three Hardingtrios bring some beautifully lilting music, which remains with the listener for a long time. Here we have the beautifully sung wordless tune over what at times sounds like the Hardanger fiddle tuning up pitted against the single note intervention of the piano. This may sound odd, but the effect is mesmerising. Add to this the use of folk tunes played on the fiddle that drift in and out as if on the air, and the result is memorable. Here, the beautiful lilting tones of soprano Hilde Haraldsen Sveen deserve special mention, as does the Hardanger fiddle playing of Håkon Asheim. It must be difficult to drift between the abstract and the folk tune on a single line.

Now we come to the strange “Trio for thirteen”. Hvoslef explains that he used three groups – four voices, four strings and four winds – and the thirteenth player is a percussionist. It is in fact the percussionist who gets things started with a roll on the timpani before a section on strings. We then go a little odd. The singers indulge in a spot of laughter, and it even odder that this is kicked off with a fairground mechanical laughing box. Sections of more conventional singing and playing intermingle with more outlandish vocalisations, before the piece justs fade away; this is a product of its time perhaps, but an interesting one nonetheless.

Ketil Hvoslef’s diverse styles may delight many and infuriate some. But even at its most strange this music is never less than interesting, and it can hold the listener’s interest. The Hardingtrios might be remember for quite a while. The performers of the Hvoslef Chamber Music Project are all excellent, so it is an extremely well performed and thought-provoking disc. I look forward to the next volume eagerly. The recorded sound is also excellent. The booklet notes, as always, take the form of a conversation with the composer and his introduction to the pieces performed here. This disc is well worth investigating, and recommended for all fans of modern music.

Stuart Sillitoe

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