POUL RUDERS: Symphony No. Five – Danish Nat. Sym. Orch./Olari Elts – Bridge

Another complex and unique but interesting work for the Ruders fan.

POUL RUDERS: Symphony No. Five – Danish Nat. Sym. Orch./Olari Elts – Bridge 9475 [Distr. by Albany] (11/04/16) 26:30 ***:

I agree wholly with other writers who have commented that Bridge is to be commended for continuing its series of works by the very unique Danish composer Poul Ruders.

Ruders’ music is nothing if not unique; nearly impossible to describe, very eclectic as it even varies more than a bit from work to work, His “voice” is that he has no easy to label ‘pigeon-hole’ and classical musical theoreticians and historians do love to identify ‘schools’ and strive to populate them.

That is actually one of the aspects to Ruders’ work I love; the element of the unexpected. The Fifth Symphony, heard here, was written as recently as 2012 and is comprised of three very interesting movements. The opening Presto alla breve is characterized by some brass declamations and moves briskly along in a manner that sounds nearly like it is aimless and would “unravel” at any moment. The middle Tranquillo sognante is the highlight of the work for me. This fairly expansive and also fairly bleak movement contains moments of great beauty and ascendancy. The “shocker” for concert goers used to being able to more or less anticipate the closing of a typical symphony – with the usual dynamic and melodic cues along the way – is the almost complete absence of these in the Avanti danzante. There is no Nielsen-like sustained final chord; no Sibelius-like buildup where we sense we are nearing a grand finale of sorts. This Symphony’s final movement contains some bizarre and violent percussion offerings (including what might be the only use of multiple maracas in a symphony) to some wildly oscillating major and minor ambivalence and the final utterance is, indeed, final – a near discord that is unexpected, very brief and the mere fact that nothing follows the final abbreviated outburst is the most ‘shocking’ aspect to any listener used to the usual ‘buildup.’

The performance here is wonderful from the Danish National Symphony; an orchestra I honestly have not heard too much of and the audio quality is superb, as is everything Bridge does. I cannot honestly say for those who do not already know of Poul Ruders that this piece is the one to start with; that might be a bit off-putting. Try the Piano Concertos or his Symphony No. 2.

Lastly, my one gripe about this release is that this work is the only thing on this album and at a very lean playing time of twenty-six minutes but at a not too lean retail price of about twenty dollars. Ruders is a very prolific composer. It feels to me that Bridge’s “Volume Ten” in their complete works of Ruders could have waited for the selection and recording of another of his works of, say, thirty minutes – even a chamber piece; no? But I do remain an admirer of Poul’s music and do recommend this especially for those who are already familiar.

—Daniel Coombs

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