Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Rarely Heard Music from the Danish Master, Knudage Riisager
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 06/30/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have a confession. The music of Knudage Riisager (1897-1974) has been and remains a secret passion. Well, perhaps no longer secret as this is, I think, my fourth review of recordings of his music, e.g.: Knudåge Riisager: Qarrtsiluni; Månerenen,Riisager: Etudes/Qarrtsiluni/Erasmus Montanus Overture, Riisager: Chamber Music. He is, alas, barely known outside his native Denmark and even in his native country his music is a rarity in concert programs. But he was a true original whose mastery of his craft, sly humor and utter dedication to his profession were exemplary. The thing that attracted me to him initially was his humor. In some ways his early music, or rather his slightly skewed sense of humor, reminds me of that of Jean Francaix or even Francis Poulenc in his sassy vein. Indeed there is much about Riisager's musical materials that sounds a bit French, which is not surprising since he studied with Albert Roussel and Paul Le Flem and was well-acquainted with the members of Les Six.
The big work on this CD is the music for a ballet 'Benzin' ('Gasoline'). 'Benzin' was written in collaboration with writer Robert Storm Petersen who was an enormously popular humorist in the early years of the last century. The ballet tells the story of a young farmhand who is in love with a village maiden. A motorcyclist arrives in the town and has run out of gasoline. The farmhand offers to go get some gasoline for him and while he is gone the cyclist makes time with the young man's girlfriend. When the farmhand gets back he realizes what has happened, some jealous jousting occurs, but finally the two men strike a deal: the girl is exchanged for the can of gasoline and all ends happily as gasoline fumes (in the form of lovely ballerinas) dance throughout the village. It was premiered in 1928 at the Royal Theatre, given three performances, and in spite of being enthusiastically received by its audiences, never repeated until a television production in Copenhagen in 1963. The music itself, however, has taken on a life of its own. And no wonder. The music is insouciant, sprightly, ironic and enormously descriptive of the sometimes grotesque stage action. The orchestration, which includes eleven percussion instruments, is masterful. The music is filled with tongue-in-cheek effects including, punnily, passages with flutter-tonguing, note-bending and glissandi. But the score contains more than comic elements. For instance, towards the end of the score are two sections -- 'The Watchman' and 'The Moon' -- that are quietly evocative. 'The Watchman' quotes a Danish watchman's tune, 'The day wears to its ending'. 'The Moon', for all its serenity, surprisingly makes use of solo soprano saxophone and, later, a banjo solo.
The CD is concluded with two much later works: 'Archaeopteryx' from 1949, and 'Apollo, God of Light' from 1972. 'Archaeopteryx', which lasts about 17 minutes, begins strangely with twenty-eight bars of creative but minimalist orchestration of a single tone, C, played over the entire range of the orchestra. New ideas emerge in a sort of mosaic style, combined and arranged in various sequences and still with minimalist effect. There is no sense of evolution of the musical materials and one begins to recognize that this is a frozen depiction of the half-bird, half-reptile archeopteryx fossil that was found in 1861. The piece is a static but eerily evocative sound picture that is almost trance music. Weird but striking.
'Apollo, God of Light' is Riisager's last major work, written at a point when he had been moving towards increased use of dissonance, as in his masterful work 'Qarrtsiluni'. Apollo is the 'god of light and messenger of the sun' and the music depicts 'light split(ting) the darkness' by using shrilling high winds and trumpets against a dark, deep background. Formally, the work has superimposed dissonant planes of sound that move independently of each other. In some ways it reminds me of a piece about a similar topic, Carl Ruggles' 'Sun Treader', with its evocative use of extreme dissonance. Powerful stuff. We're no longer in the presence of Riisager the playful wit; he clearly has moved on to more serious things. And wonderfully.
The playing of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under Welsh conductor Owain Arwel Hughes is all one could ask for. A marvelous disc, possibly the finest Riisager disc currently available. Perhaps its time for you to dip your toe in his music!