Per Nørgård Symphonies 2 & 6 – Oslo Philharmonic/John Storgårds [Dacapo]

4 of 5 stars

Per Nørgård
Symphony No.2
Symphony No.6 (At the End of the Day)

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
John Storgårds

Recorded in Oslo during May & June 2015 – No.2 in the Opera House, No.6 in the Konserthus

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: August 2016
CD No: DACAPO 6.220645 [SACD]
Duration: 54 minutes



Dacapo continues its traversal of Per Nørgård’s Symphonies, arguably the most significant such cycle from the post-war era.

The present disc couples the Second and Sixth Symphonies – works separated by almost three decades, during which time Nørgård moved from seemingly having rejected the Danish classicism of the Nielsen/Holmboe tradition to one of demonstrable individuality while not eschewing a continuity with the past that Nørgård recreated along his own lines.

With hindsight, the Second Symphony (1971) can be seen to initiate a period of retrenchment after the ceaseless experimentation of the preceding decade. Although the so-called “infinity series” had been a factor in Nørgård’s music throughout that period, it was only in the second section of Voyage Into the Golden Screen that he alighted on its true potential as a generator of large-scale form. Symphony 2 accordingly takes this further by having the series unfold in parallel to itself across all levels of the musical texture, in a process with few comparisons (save for the elaborate heterophony in the late works of Enescu). Closer in overall duration to the pioneering account by Jorma Panula (on the Point label), John Storgårds is appreciably more interventionist in his underlining of those formal and expressive junctures which inform this music’s evolution – extending while intensifying its progress without that sense of relative haste evident in Leif Segerstam’s reading for Chandos. Which version is preferred will depend whether or not one hears this piece as an autonomous entity, whose events are (or should be) free of interpretative license.

When the Sixth Symphony (1999) emerged there was perhaps a tinge of regret that Nørgård had not followed-up the radical possibilities for symphonic renewal of its predecessor. In fact this later work is far from mere consolidation as might have been thought, its three continuous movements representing “passages” (the composer’s description) over whose course the initial ideas are transformed by means of continually developing variation; witness the impulsive dismantling of sonata principles in the opening passage, the oblique passacaglia that underpins the elegiac second (though an elegy for what is for each listener to decide), then the stealthy deployment of rondo form by which the final one builds energetically to a conclusion such as promises much while typically divulging little.

Storgårds undoubtedly has the measure of this endlessly absorbing work, if lacking a final degree of vitality that marks out the previous recording (made soon after the premiere) by Thomas Dausgaard, for Chandos, where a new beginning is not just inferred but experienced.

That earlier account is juxtaposed with Terrians vagues, which Nørgård intended as a conceptual companion piece to the Symphony (though they need not be heard as such), while Panula’s reading of the Second Symphony couples it with the first recording of the Fourth. Dacapo’s disc is enhanced by SACD sound which opens-out this music’s luminous intricacy as rarely before. There is a typically detailed and informative booklet note by Jens Cornelius.

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