POUL RUDERS: ‘Music of Poul Ruders, Vol. 7‘ = Symphony No. 4 (An Organ Symphony); Trio Transcendentale; Songs and Rhapsodies – Flemming Dreisig, organ/Odense Sym. Orch./Robert Minczuk, conductor/Nicholas Wearne, organ/Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen – Bridge Records 9375, 60:48 [Distr. by Albany] ***:
I have written before on both the fascinating, eclectic and weirdly attractive music of Danish composer Poul Ruders as well as the good work done by Bridge Records in finding, recording and promoting the music of several different composers whose music is a bit “off the beaten path.”
This latest in the “Music of Poul Ruders” collection continues this trend and certainly does not disappoint. In fact, Ruders’ Symphony No. 4 (An Organ Symphony) is reason enough to have this disc. A fairly recent work, written in 2010 on a three way commission for the orchestras of Odense, Dallas and the City of Birmingham, this is a large, sprawling and dramatic work that exists only very peripherally as a sort of concerto for organ and orchestra. In fact, Ruders uses the organ in a prominent capacity only sparingly and treats it almost as a “mega” wind instrument. I agree with booklet annotator Malcolm MacDonald that it would be a mistake to think of this piece as having much in common, at all, with the Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 or even the Copland “Organ” Symphony. This is, however, a bold and dramatic work existing in four movements.
The opening movement is a very brooding work with some ominous interplay between the organ, brass and percussion. The second, Cortège, is quite funereal save for a few bars of some lively neo-Baroque utterances in the winds. The third, Presto, is a really rapid and frantic etude-like work that propels into the final Chaconne; but one written in common time with a nine measure theme (not what might otherwise be a twelve measure triple meter structure) This symphony comes to a vibrant and dramatic conclusion with the organ serving darkly and intrusively. This is really an exciting work that makes a wonderful new addition to the symphonic repertoire.
Ruders the experimenter is somewhat exemplified by the brief Trio Transcendentale for solo organ. Ruders, himself, is a former church organist and this work was intended as a contest piece. Technically difficult and largely tonal, the work takes its title from the pattern of three voices used, herein, in a similar to one of the many Baroque trio sonatas, such as those by J.S. Bach.
The extensive Songs and Rhapsodies is another impressive but very unusual chamber work for winds, including a prominent accordion part. This dense and pensive work actually exists in seventeen small sections, connected mostly without transitions. There are four “rhapsodies” that are interspersed between thirteen “songs” with mysterious titles, such as “The Desert of Time Revisited” or “Gateway to Dreaming”. The tone of these sections drifts rapidly, suddenly and oddly between the ethereal and dreamy to the very dance-like (often giving the accordion some dance hall moments!) to the dense, cluster-like and shocking. This is a very interesting work, but it is also nearly 30 minutes and tests the listener’s patience a bit.
Poul Ruders remains a most interesting and eccentric figure in modern music. He has always done his version of whatever he feels like and, for me, to large success. I would say, in this volume of this very important series, the Symphony No. 4 is well worth investigating. It is a profound, complex and powerful work. This recording is also at the usual high Bridge standards. The Odense Symphony, Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen and all soloists do a very fine job!
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich