I had reviewed another disc of this composer’s music on this label here and I must admit that it took me quite a while to meaningfully grasp the music of this too little known Danish composer (1924-2012). It should be no secret that the Danes have had and continue to have a rich musical culture and have produced quite a number of world class composers and this man is no exception. However his style, apparently gleaned from his association with the modernists of Darmstadt, can be a tough nut to crack.
As with the aforementioned disc one might require multiple listenings before coming to realize that this man has a unique style and one that bears some serious attention. This disc of piano music (and one piece for celesta) fills a gap in his recorded repertoire and is an excellent opportunity to see how he works in the genre of keyboard music.
These ten tracks contain works written from 1949 to 1988 so they cover a significant portion of his career and illustrate the development of his style. Pianist Erik Kaltoft, a longtime associate of the composer, demonstrates interpretive skill as well as virtuosity and dedication in this fascinating survey.
The first (and longest 11:29) piece is Thalatta! Thalatta! (1987-88) and is given the opus number of 127. The exclamation of the title translates as, “The Sea! The Sea!” and is said to have been spoken by the Greek armies upon reaching the Black Sea during one of their campaigns. It is an impressionistic piece about the many moods of the sea. His harmonies are like a modern update of Debussy, a bit more dissonant but providing a similarly soft focused feel.
Continuing with the maritime theme are the 6 miniatures called Marine Sketches (1949) opus 4b. It is one of the earliest compositions in this collection (along with the Miniature Suite opus 3b, also 1949, on track 8). Each of the pieces lasts around one minute and there are no track breaks to separate them. The composer seems to expect that they will always be performed together and with a total time of 6:53, why not? In contrast to the first piece these contain more melodic contours with less overall dissonance but clearly the same compositional fingerprint.
The four Winter Pieces opus 30b (1959) contain more energetic rhythms but with strategic silences punctuating the overall flow. They end with a brief epilogue.
From winter we move to another season with the Summer Intermezzi opus 65 (1971) comes back to the sound world of the first track. Here he experiments with different techniques to expand the language of the keyboard and incorporates the strategic silences of the piece on the former track.
Track 5 contains the earliest piece in this collection, Pasacaglia opus 2b (1948) which seems to suggest some influence of Scriabin. It is a classic set of variations over the initial bass line and has a rather romantic feel.
Raindrop Interludes opus 144 (1994) is an impressionistic suite with the more dissonant style of his other later pieces. It is the most recently composed of the recorded selections.
Epigrams opus 78 (1976) at 9:15, is the second longest piece here. This is one of the most abstract pieces on the disc and demands concentration from both the performer and the listener to perceive delicate statements made with a wide dynamic range.
The Miniaturesuite opus 3b concentrates a praeludium, fantasia, interludium, sarabande and a repeat of praeludium in a brief 2:49. It is more melodic and less dissonant in keeping with the composer’s earlier style.
Praeludier opus 30a (1958-9) are seven pithy and brief preludes.
The last track contains Phantasiestùck opus 115 (1985) written for celesta. This instrument, forever doomed to familiarity by its use in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, has a limited repertoire and this gentle abstract piece is a welcome addition. It is consistent with the composer’s late style using dissonance and silences in an almost meditative and strangely nostalgic piece.
The extensive and useful liner notes are by Trine Boje Mortensen and are printed in both Danish and English (translation by John Irons). The fine recording and mastering are by Preben Iwan in the fine acoustics of the Royal Danish Academy of Music. Grateful assistance and input from the composer’s daughter Elisabet Selin.
One needs to be cautioned never to take lightly anything produced from this creative country and this album is proof of that. Kudos to OUR recordings for bringing this music to the listening public.