Per Nørgård Symphonies 4 & 5 – Oslo Philharmonic/John Storgårds [Dacapo]

4 of 5 stars

Per Nørgård
Symphony No.4
Symphony No.5

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
John Storgårds

Recorded in Oslo during May & June 2015 – No.4 in the Opera House, No.5 in the Konserthus

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: August 2016
CD No: DACAPO 6.220646 [SACD]
Duration: 56 minutes



Dacapo concludes its traversal of Per Nørgård eight Symphonies (to date), the Oslo Philharmonic and John Storgårds juxtaposing the Fourth and Fifth: works that find Nørgård moving from an overtly illustrative concept to his re-embracing of abstract symphonism with a vengeance. In neither work has the musical past been rejected; rather it has been reappraised.

The Fourth Symphony (1981) emerged two years after Nørgård’s thinking was profoundly affected by encountering the art of Swiss schizophrenic Adolf Wölfli – though at a musical level this was less to do with abandoning than extending and, where necessary, dislocating his thinking of the previous decade. The title refers to the musical work Wölfli planned in detail without being able to realise; its irreconcilability of opposites inherent in the course of a piece as passes from the often disorientating beauty of ‘Indischer Roosen-Gaarten’ (Indian Rose Garden) to the sinisterly disjunctive manner of ‘Chineesischer Hexen-See’ (Chinese Witch Lake), the latter replete with allusions in what is akin less to Alfred Schnittke’s polystylism than to Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s temporal simultaneity.

Closer to Jorma Panula’s swift account (on Point) than Leif Segerstam’s protracted if never distended reading (for Chandos), Storgårds brings out the colouristic allure of Nørgård’s soundworld without losing sight of the formal focus; in what is no mere transition from light to darkness but an expressively intensifying journey with that essential naivety as both departure and arrival.

The premiere of Nørgård’s Fifth Symphony in 1990 proved an occasion – not only through its being framed by the Fifths of Sibelius and Nielsen, but also because its vast emotional range allied to an intuitive while never arbitrary evolution represents what is surely the most vital redefining of the symphonic genre this past half-century. The number of movements is left for the listener to discern: Dacapo opts for five tracks whereas Chandos favours four – combining the ‘third’ and the ‘fourth’ of the present version in a way that is justified in theory though not necessarily in practice given this work unfolds in both instances as unbroken.

Nor does Storgårds shaving two minutes off Segerstam’s account make much difference: indeed it is the latter who imparts greater unity across the eruptive violence and illusory non-sequiturs of Nørgård’s singular design. Just how successful this Symphony is as music may depend on how influential this proves to be on future composers, but the gauntlet has been thrown down.

Panula’s reading of the Fourth pairs it with the first recording of the Second, while Segerstam juxtaposes the Fourth and Fifth, as here. Storgårds’s accounts are enhanced by SACD sound that opens-out the music’s luminous orchestration. There is an informative booklet-note by Jens Cornelius.

Those who have been acquiring this Dacapo cycle can invest with confidence: hopefully it will be issued complete – with Thomas Dausgaard in 3 & 7 and Sakari Oramo conducting 1 & 8 – to mark Nørgård’s 85th-birthday next July.

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