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Ketil HVOSLEF (b. 1939)
Chamber Works VII
Trio for Soprano, Alto and piano (1974) [14:17]
String Quartet No. 3 (1998) [21:16]
Sextet for Flute and Percussion (1986–1989) [18:20]
rec. 2018/19, Gunnar Sævigs Sal, Griegakademiet, Bergen, Norway

In all my reviews of the complete recording of Ketil Hvoslef’s chamber music I have expressed the longing to hear his works for string quartet and here, in volume seven of nine, we at last have the chance to listen to his Strykekvartett nr. III, which is often regarded as his finest, and it was well worth the wait. The third work on this disc, his Sekstett for fløyte og slagverk, is also regarded as being among his finest chamber works.

The first work on this disc is the earliest. It is a fourteen-minute single movement and is not, as some online retailers have described it, a Trio for Soprano, Viola and Piano, but for Soprano, Alto and Piano. The two female vocalists, soprano Mari Galambos Grue and alto Anne Daugstad Wik, are both students at the Grieg Academy and have the ability, along with the pianist Einar Røttingen, to make this music to sound different and exciting.

The work begins ethereally with the piano shimmering into view, followed by the two female voices who, in what in essence is a vocalise, sing not only their notes but also random syllables such as ta, pa, do and ma along with isolated vowels, which are recognisable sounds giving the work more depth. The music wends its way through different vocal and pianistic colours, with jazz-like sections complementing more lyrical sections. An unusual combination, it does, however, work very well, with the soprano and alto both contrasting well and producing a unison sound. This is sometimes pitted against the piano, which shifts from a merely supportive role to that of a dominant position. This is a well-constructed work which opens new horizons for the listener.

The longest and also the most recent work on this disc, the String Quartet No. 3, was commissioned and premiered by the Oslo String Quartet in 1988 and shows the composer’s view of “regarding similar instruments as unified groups.” There is no doubt that the work is challenging, but it is all the more interesting for that fact. The players of the quartet are called upon to produce various sounds through their playing the vast array of tonal colours and effects that the four instruments can produce, with some of the results being quite remarkable. Beginning with three loud, spaced-out chords with some hardly audible playing in between, Hvoslef nails his intentions to the mast from the outset. Strong, bold and sometimes frenzied playing follows with the occasional violent outburst adding to the tension of the work; there are even times that the playing sounds like a siren. This might sound strange and unpalatable, but it works. This is a colourful and rhythmically interesting work which challenges the perceived range of the genre of the string quartet. I look forward to his other string quartets; nos. 1 and 4 will appear on the next disc and the Second Quartet, in which one of the violins is replaced with a Hardanger fiddle, will feature on the final disc in the series.

The final work on the disc is again composed for a strange array of instruments: a flute and five percussionists - I know of no other work for such an ensemble. The Sextet for Flute and Percussion was commissioned by the percussion ensemble Kroumata and the Brazilian flautist Manuela Wiesler, who together gave the premier of the Sextet in Stockholm in 1986. Hvoslef’s booklet note explains that the music touches on elements from “foreign” musical cultures, the impetus, without being biographical, being the travels of Manuela Wiesler. The result is again very interesting, with examples of various styles built upon by Hvoslef, who rather than slavishly parroting the styles, uses their essence to build up his own reflections. There are throughout the piece some remarkable examples of breath control by the flautist Eivind Sandgrind who sustains some very long notes such that on occasion her tone sounds electronically produced. The percussion ensemble creates such a varied and rewarding array of timbres through the vast array of instruments available to them, producing some remarkable sounds and percussive colours which blend well with the flute.

This is one of the most rewarding of the seven volumes released so far. The three works illustrate differing aspects of Ketil Hvoslef’s wonderful chamber music in performances which deserve to be celebrated for their insight and nuanced interpretations. The recorded sound is, as with the rest of the series, excellent and detailed, as are the booklet notes, with Hvoslef’s incisive input being of great help to the listener. This is a highly recommendable disc which, despite its challenging aspects, is approachable and enjoyable.

Stuart Sillitoe

Mari Galambos Grue (soprano)
Anne Daugstad Wik (alto)
Einar Røttingen (piano)
Ricardo Odriozola (violin)
Mara Haugen (violin)
Ingrid Rugesæter (viola)
Ragnhild Sannes (cello)
Eivind Sandgrind (flute)
Craig Farr (percussion)
Sigvald Fersum (percussion)
Gard Garshol (percussion)
Mathias Matland (percussion)
Ola Berg Riser (percussion)
Ricardo Odriozola (director)

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