PER NORGARD: Symphonies No. 3 and 7 – Danish National Vocal Ensemble/ Danish National Choir/ Danish National Symphony Orchestra/ Thomas Dausgaard, conductor – DaCapo

by | Aug 12, 2009 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

PER NORGARD: Symphonies No. 3 and 7 – Danish National Vocal Ensemble/ Danish National Choir/ Danish National Symphony Orchestra/ Thomas Dausgaard, conductor – DaCapo Multichannel SACD 6.220547, 69:23 ****: [Distr. by Naxos]

Per Norgard is probably the leading exponent of Danish music today. At 77, he continues his creative work, having already corralled over 400 compositions, of which the symphonies serve as guideposts along the way, appearing every seven or eight years to allow the composer to assess the world in a fresh way.

The detailed and thoroughly complex notes go into all sorts of technical trickery about Norgard’s music which in the end only proves confusing to the listener. While it may be true that he composed in twelve-tone style, and that he extended that style by reaching into the harmonic series as a structural basis for much of his work, I think that the general listener could care less. Neither, really, should a reviewer. I am always amused at the extremes taken in some booklet notes (especially of contemporary releases) that feel compelled to drown us in all sorts of esoteric novelties that certainly stimulate the mind—at least these do—but ultimately leave us without a clue to the real nature of the music. It’s all, after all, in the hearing, and little else matters. Perhaps after having become familiar with a work it can be interesting to go back and dissect it, but no amount of dissection is able to put an already flawed Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

In this case there is no need, as I think the note writer misses the point completely about these works. Nothing is told of the nature of these symphonies. If I had to choose a word, especially for the already fairly well-known Third (1972-7), it would be ecstatic. There is a certain tension in these pieces that border on the rapturous, and even though the melodic development is not of the sonata-form type, the soaring lines and blissful choral passages—using the hymn Ave Maria Stella, Hail, Star of the Sea, and Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sing, My Heart, of Unknown Gardens Poured in Glass—give us a non-linear presentation of the words in a way that faithfully graces the music. The Seventh Symphony is far more recent (2004-6), and though structurally more noteworthy, at least to these ears, its sonorities play an even greater significance due to the presence of 14 tuned toms, which are wonderfully scored as a sort of interior repeated motif that surfaces with slightly different orchestration each time, beautifully placed among basses and cellos particularly for a memorable event. The only surprise for me was the rather drop-off ending. Though no accelerando is ever made to a climax, this denouement cuts us off rather suddenly without warning.

There are moments of great beauty in both of these works, and I am sure further hearings will reveal many secrets. This is music is modern to be sure, but of a type where real communicability is possible for those willing to give it a go. The surround sound only adds to the experience.

— Steven Ritter  

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