PER NØRGÅRD: Symphony No. 1, “Sinfonia austera”, Op. 13; Symphony No. 8 – Vienna Philharmonic/Sakari Oramo – DaCapo multichannel SACD 6.220574, 57:09 (6/25/13) [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
DaCapo provides some very nice information on composer Per Nørgård whose work I did not know until this recording. At a young age, he became a private pupil of Vagn Holmboe, whose work I do know, and admire greatly. Nørgård’s earliest works were in Holmboe’s “Nordic” idiom with some similarities to Sibelius. The First Symphony, heard here seems to be a prime example of this period. There is a formal similarity to the symphonies of Sibelius, explained in part to Nørgård’s admiration of the famous elder (the DaCapo booklet notes cite an interesting letter from the 22-year old Nørgård to the then 89-year old Sibelius). This piece is a sprawling and, occasionally, strident work that wouldn’t really be confused with Sibelius, but the influence is clear and I found this a most impressive piece.
The Symphony No. 8, written nearly fifty years later, is a very different experience. The “Austera Symphony”, as the composer nicknamed it, is full of the picturesque “icy” tableaus that are conjured up by the Sibelius Symphony No. 1 and – somewhat – the slow movement from Vagn Holboe’s Symphony No. 5. However, this is a sparse, bleak and commanding (but not “acerbic” in my mind, as some reviewers assert) work that I enjoyed a lot. The booklet notes further explain that Per Nørgård’s artistic curiosity caused him to explore the potential of “Central European Modernism”. In the 1980s Per Nørgård concentrated on a sense of chaos and fragmentation. While I am sure that is true, the Symphony No. 8 from the very recent 2011, is an interesting throwback to the Symphony No. 1 in that it does not sound terribly “modern” at all. In fact, other than some bizarre orchestrations it has some flavor in common with the works of fellow Dane Carl Nielsen.
Both of these very interesting symphonies are structured in three movements, not the “classic” four. These are very hard to categorize works but I found them enjoyable and intriguing to listen to. Per Nørgård has written works of all sizes, from operas to simple choral songs. The performances by the Vienna Philharmonic under the superb guidance of Sakari Oramo are excellent and this is, apparently, their first recording of modern Nordic music. The surround sound quality is superb and I found this a very enjoyable recording.