A disc with two of the most ingenious violin concertos of ou
Christopher Culver | 08/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This Chandos disc combines the violin concertos of two highly original figures, the criminally underappreciated Danish composer Per Norgard and the late Gyorgy Ligeti, and is filled out by Norgard's viola "Sonata" arranged for violin. The soloist is Christina Astrand and she performs with the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. Both of the concertos are strikingly similar in that they both experiment with tunings and each composer quotes some of his youthful work in the new.
Per Norgard (born 1931) has made an enormous amount of contributions to the language of 20th- (and now 21st-!) century music. His discovery of the infinity series, a method of generating melody that exhibits dazzling fractal-like self-similarity, should have been enough to bring him to the forefront of contemporary music. His Symphony No. 3 of 1975, where the melodic infinity series is joined by similar limitless wells in harmony and rhythm, making a listen to the work almost religious ecstasy in the cohension of all its parts, is well-regarded by its own crowd of music fans.
Yet Norgard didn't stop there. In the 1980s, he went on to explore concepts of musical interference. In the last movements of his four-movement "Violin Concerto No. 1: Helle Nacht" (1986-87), a new entirely original development appears, the so-called "tone lakes". Take three notes from a given melody, work out its inversion, retrograde, and retrograde inversion, and weave them into the same line: you've got a melody that seems to flow not only forward, but ripples out in all directions at once. Not only that, but since you can put a new expression of the series ad infinitum in between any two notes, Norgard continues to provide music of endless possibilities.
The use of tone lakes is not the only example of interference. The first movement quotes from one early Norgard work before drastically changing course toward a quotation of another. Furthermore, throughout the movement we hear "beat tones", the mysterious pulsations heard when a note is played against itself or its octave in slightly different tunings. In the third movement, the solo line consists of three different traditional melodies heard at the same time.
So what does this mean for the listener? Norgard has always used his discoveries in ways that make for pleasant listening; only the most conservative of classical fans would find anything grating here, so one can approach the concerto as sweet and entertaining music. The use of so many contrasting segments, however, means that there is always something new to hear within. This is a work that won't leave one bored after a few first hearings. I've not heard the world premiere recording where the soloist is Anton Kontra, the work's dedicatee, but I can't imagine things can get better than Astrand's performance here.
Norgard's solo "Sonata" was originally written for the violist Nobuko Imai, but the German violinist Heinrich Hoerlein arranged it for violin with Norgard's approval. Throughout the piece a melody seems to assert itself, only to then be revealed as part of a larger melody. While one of Norgard's minor works, the Sonata is exciting with its clear dramatic arc and the multifaceted personality of the solo instrument.
Gyorgy Ligeti's "Violin Concerto" (1989-92) is a carnival of microtones. The orchestra consists of ten wind players, percussion, and eleven solo strings, and tuning varies wildly. Brass players often play natural harmonics that clash with equal temperment, two string players retune their instruments to follow the seemingly out-of-tune sounds of the double-bass, and several players turn to imprecise ocarinas and slide whistles. Like many works of the late Ligeti, this is in a postmodern vein, where the composer not only showcases his own new ideas but quotes his own past works ("Musica Ricercata") and borrows from Balkan folk music concepts. I concur with those who would call this music "wacky", it's certainly exhuberant and hops from style to style in a very fun way. One would have to consider the reading of Frank Peter Zimmermann et al. on Teldec/Warner Classics' THE LIGETI PROJECT III to be definitive, since Ligeti supervised its recording. However, Astrand's performance is very impressive indeed.
The sheer amount of theoretical innovation here combined with a sensuous and engaging soundworld makes this a disc I very much recommend."
Mr. S. M. C. Mendoza | Twickenham, UK | 08/26/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I heard this disk reviewed on the BBC Third Programme, now called radio three. I bought it not only for how it sounded on the radio but for the enthusiasm of the reviewer and I was not disappointed. I agree with the BBC reviewer that the Norgard is, if anything, a little better than the Ligeti, in fact I do like it more but both are excellent, so much so that since the disk was stolen from my car I have been trying to replace it, hence this review, solicited when I was searching for the disk which has been unavailable for some time. The music is clear, incisive, emotional, hypnotic. The playing and recording are excellent."
robertrecorde | 01/17/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ligeti's Violin Concerto is a modern masterpiece crammed full of fantastic music, and this is definitely the recording which best reveals it as such. On the basis of the original Boulez/Gawriloff DG recording, I previously considered this piece merely good, but not up to Ligeti's usual standards. This new disc, however, showed me just how wrong I had been. (Incidentally, that Boulez disc doesn't really do justice to Ligeti's Piano Concerto either. The Ensemble Modern's recording is much preferable - if you can find it.) This is music of real invention - sometimes jittery and playful, other times chillingly gorgeous (and occasionally damned spooky), but always a rich experience for ear and brain. If you like Ligeti, you owe it to yourself to hear this one. If you are new to Ligeti, or to contemporary classical (there still isn't a good way to get around that oxymoron) music in general, then this might be a good place to test out the waters - but be prepared to take it slow and LISTEN several times. This is by no means "easy" music, and it will absolutely not work in the backround. The rewards it holds for the patient and focused listener, however, are considerable and unique. The Norgard Concerto, "Helle Nacht," is nearly as inventive as its discmate. It was the eerie inner movements which drew me in at first, but after a few more listenings, I began to appreciate the busier outer movements as much as (if not more than) the inner ones. If you are new to Norgard, and like what you hear on this disc, be sure to try his 3rd symphony next. He is a criminally underapreciated composer."
Near Perfect CD
M. V. Coit | NYC | 05/14/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I got this CD for the Ligeti violin concerto; I'd never heard or heard of Per Norgard, the Danish composer. I found their music to be complements making listening to the CD a near perfect experience. The performance by the violinist Christina Astrand is outstanding. She takes the listener through the levels and texture of both composers. The more I listen to the CD, the more I'm inclined to play the Norgard Sonata 'The Secret Melody' over and over again."