Music from Denmark and Norway

Act [European Premiere]
Intermezzi from Under Himlen [UK premiere]
A Tempo [UK premiere]

Loré Lixenberg & Marianne Rørholm (mezzo-sopranos)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Johannes Kalitzke

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 7 October, 2004
Venue: BBC Studio 1, Maida Vale, London

This BBC Symphony Orchestra ‘free concert’ offered three interesting and absorbing pieces. Under Johannes Kalitzke’s expert direction, each was given a thoroughly well prepared rendition.

Rolf Wallin’s Act is a brand-new and thrilling piece, written this year for the Cleveland Orchestra and premiered under the orchestra’s music director Franz Welser-Möst. Speed and activity is central to Act, and it does indeed develop a formidable power and motion leavened by some beguiling arabesques that all seem part of, rather than a diversion from, the linear and cumulative design of this 11-minute showpiece. Wallin’s soundworld is always engaging, whether in allusions to ‘electronic’ sounds or spectral textures; at the close the gestures become more rebarbative before a final increase in velocity.

Bent Sørensen’s Intermezzi from Under Himlem also proved gratifying. “Under Himlen” (Under the Sky) is an opera first performed this year at the Royal Theatre Copenhagen. Intermezzi is not a suite from the opera, it’s more a stand-alone concert work that re-orders and re-views the opera itself. At 30 minutes it’s a substantial work, one that sustained its length by eloquent expression, even through the use of such time-honoured devices as portamento. Hearing Intermezzi makes one want to hear and see the opera itself. There seems to be a fairy-tale element, or something surreal, inherent in this music. There’s a sense of perspective too – a remote piano (here screened off) and a group of strings sit away from their colleagues.

The two mezzos – Marianne Rørholm dressed as a soldier to denote she was the male character, Molte – sung first from within the orchestra, then took the more conventional ‘soloist’ position. The music is lyrical, atmospheric, there are echoes of Berg, and while instruments such as the flexatone and bell tree do not stand up to too much use, there are some wonderfully eloquent passages and haunting sounds, not least the muted strings in the fourth movement. The sequence ends with a ‘distant’ piano solo that reminds of the envoi of Schumann’s Dichterliebe. Intermezzi from Under Himlen proved, like Act, to be must-hear-again music. A pity, though, that a text and translation from the Danish couldn’t be provided.

Karl Aage Rasmussen, the senior composer here (born 1947), was represented by A Tempo (2001), music also demanding a second listen, this time to determine just what the piece is about. From the composer’s written note, music exploring different tempos simultaneously had been anticipated. Much as the iridescent textures were consistently ear-catching, the sectional aspect of the work, each lucid in themselves, didn’t on a first hearing seem to add up over the 23-minute span. Maybe for ‘A’ Rasmussen means a single tempo, the deviations of speed achieved through longer and shorter notes, but if the ‘A’ means returning to the speed of the opening, then this was more difficult to ascertain. Rasmussen dreams of spiral and circular conveyer belts in airports – to alleviate boredom – although he concedes that planes might be missed. Maybe A Tempo is indeed a circular work, viewing the same things from different angles, a Birtwistle premise if without the sense of ritual. The brusque ending of A Tempo seemed to break free. Maybe, maybe not, but a second listen is looked forward too along with rest of the concert at which all three composers were present and convivially sitting next to each other.

  • Recorded for broadcast in “Hear and Now” – BBC Radio 3 on Saturday 30 October at 11.00 p.m.

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