At the end of the day – Nørgård’s Sixth Symphony on Chandos and at the Proms

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.6 ’At the End of the Day’ (1998-99)
Terrains Vagues (2000, revised 2001)

Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Thomas Dausgaard

Recorded November 2000 (Symphony) and September 2001 in Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen
Repertoire on CD for first time

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: July 2002

Per Nørgård, born in 1932, turned 70 this month and stands as the senior Danish composer, one individual and influential. From an early style described as post-Sibelius, Nørgård has developed a personal language that is emotional and vivid founded on colouristic variety and a harmonic slow-burn of infinite possibilities.

A busy surface overlays a clear, long-term structure – such is the immediate perception of Nørgård’s masterly Sixth Symphony (written for the new millennium and first performed in 2000, the last year of the twentieth century) on this the fifth release in Chandos’s superb series of his music. The Sixth Symphony is due at the Proms with these artists on July 30. I believe the composer has suggested that it’s his last essay in the form. If so he could not sign-off with anything more substantial and far-reaching than this.

This is music that compels through its particular soundworld – transparency of sound, a commanding use of instrumental incident and a fabulous ear for sonority, which would be transient were it not for the integration of such potentially random brush-strokes as part of the bigger design. From the first bar a schematic core is perceived. In three ’passages’ (the composer’s description) lasting over half-an-hour, this symphony makes an immediate impression, holds the attention and begs to be heard again. Unpredictability of melody and rhythm, the ever-changing aural landscape, and a sense of fantasy, suggest a musical freedom that is almost improvised; underlying the whole is Nørgård’s debt to Sibelius, a rigorous structural underbelly that provides the listener with map and compass. Light and darkness, energy and impression intermingle in a provocative work of significance and seriousness, one that ends surprisingly simply and so effectively.

Terrains Vagues occupies perspectives primitive and sophisticated – waves (’vagues’) of sound are projected at the listener that alternate with rhythmic polarities; the effect is hypnotic. The scoring is fabulously powerful and brilliantly imagined in its timbral designation – the use of accordion, and what sounds to me like steel drums, add distinctive voices to an already-remarkable palette.

The performances are quite superb, so too the recording quality, which is lucid, focussed and dynamically wide-ranging. Certainly one for the ’best of 2002’ lists.

  • Nørgård’s music on Chandos:
  • CHAN 9450 – Sinfonia austera / Symphony No.2
  • CHAN 9491 – Symphony No.3 / Concerto in due tempi: Piano Concerto
  • CHAN 9533 – Symphonies 4 & 5
  • CHAN 9830 – Helle Nacht: Violin Concerto / Sonata ’The Secret Melody’ (with Ligeti Violin Concerto)
  • Chandos

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