‘Music of Poul Ruders, Vol. 6‘ = Piano Concerto No. 2; Bel Canto; Serenade – soloists/Norwegian Radio Orch. – Bridge

by | May 16, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

POUL RUDERS: “Music of Poul Ruders, Vol. 6” = Piano Concerto No. 2; Bel Canto; Serenade on the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean – Vassily Primakov, piano/Norwegian Radio Orchestra/Thomas Søndergǻrd, conductor/Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, violin/Mikko Luoma, accordion/iO String Quartet – Bridge Records 9336, 64:03 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Poul Ruders (b. 1949) is one of the best known composers to have emerged from Denmark since Nielsen. In many ways, he is the voice of Denmark in a very vibrant northern European contemporary music scene populated these days by a lot of well known writers from Finland and Sweden in particular. It is a shame, really, that Ruders’ music is not known well outside his native land and the larger community. However, kudos to Bridge Recordings and David Starobin, their Director of Artists & Repertoire, for devoting a whole series of well engineered discs of Ruders’ music, very well played, such as this fine example.
The three pieces in this collection are quite different and, yet, as a whole illustrate Ruders’ skills with tone color and orchestration and his penchant for the mysterious and the eclectic. The very helpful booklet notes by Malcolm MacDonald remind us that Poul Ruders has an admitted fixation with themes of melancholy, isolation, death and has studied in depth the literature of Edgar Allen Poe and the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. As much as that implies that Ruders’ music would be consistently slower paced, dark, brooding, these works herein show him to be a composer capable of many diverse styles.
The most traditional sounding work in the set is the opening ‘Piano Concerto No. 2’. Opening slowly, mysteriously, the work takes on a punctuated style with clear and captivating rhythmic propulsion, much as in the concerti of Bartok. The aggressive, punctuated style exists in the finale also (which Ruders has described as “lots of fun for everybody” – indeed!) but the central movement, semplice, begins very plaintively with the simplest of arpeggiations echoed by some harp and vibraphone.  This is a very attractive, exciting work whose tonality is brusque but not at all unpleasant and the overall effect is wonderful. Soloist Primakov and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, under Thomas Søndergǻrd play with dedication and conviction.
The ‘Bel Canto’ for solo violin is a beautiful, mournful solo work that certainly does evoke a sense of loneliness and solitude. (I have always been impressed by composers who can evoke a feeling of natural beauty or the starkness of nature. One hears both beauty but also the isolation of the fjord, for example, in this work and others by Ruders and Langgaard, for example) The work concludes with a most fascinatingly haunting use of harmonics and restatement of the hymn-like melody played without vibrato – starkly, as it were. Soloist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen brings a beauty and simple character to the work that sounds almost like a plea.
The closing work on this disc bears the metaphysical title “Serenade on the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean” for accordion and string quartet. This nine movement work was inspired, according to the composer, by the book and subsequent television series, “Cosmos” by the astronomer and physicist Carl Sagan. (Since he is one of my favorites, this captured my attention immediately!) Each section is intended to showcase a particular feeling and mood on very “expansive” concepts – the vastness of space, the breadth of the ocean, the intangibility of death and the beyond. To illustrate the mood or point of each movement, Ruders provides titles quoting Huxley, Darwin, Sagan; even Joseph Conrad. Musically, this is a very expansive work – over thirty minutes in length but fascinating from start to finish.
The strings and accordion play off each other’s timbres and range through glissandi, clusters of tonality and pulsations that do rather sound “otherworldly” in their impact. Accordianist Mikko Luoma and the iO Quartet play very well in tight ensemble fashion and seem to have a true feel for the nature and intent of this work.This is a very nice compilation and serves very well for a first time introduction to the music of Poul Ruders. I would be interested in hearing the others, myself, as I do not know as much of his music as I would like. Again, Starobin and the Bridge Records crew are to be commended for promoting the music of living composers. This is another very definite “must have” for anyone wishing to know good quality contemporary music.
— Daniel Coombs


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