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ROLF WALLIN: “Manyworlds” = Fisher King for trumpet and orchestra; Id for large orchestra; Manyworlds – Håkan Hardenberger, trumpet/Bergen Philharmonic Orch./John Storgårds – Ondine 1267-2D, CD + Hi-Def Blu-ray, 74:41 [Distr. by Naxos] (6/09/15) ***:

Norwegian Rolf Wallin is a well-known and rightfully respected composer whose music is played throughout Scandinavia. Wallin has a fairly eclectic musical background including some forays into rock, jazz and the contemporary avant-garde. The works here are diverse and interesting to be sure but do require a bit of patience and dedicated listening.

For me, I admit that my favorite was the opening work, Fisher King; essentially a concerto for trumpet and orchestra. Wallin offers the somewhat bemused admission that he carries a “love/hate” relationship with the trumpet, the instrument he played in his youth. Wallin also correctly points out that trumpet music suffers often from a stereotype of fanfares, battle scenes and high staccatos. It is an instrument that will almost certainly cut through any texture with ease; not always a good thing. So with the counsel of the amazing virtuoso player Håkan Hardenberger, Wallin has created a piece that gives some mystery and drama to the instrument. The title refers to the mythical character, the “Fisher King”, whose country degenerates into wasteland until virtue and the king, himself, can restore the glory; Wallin envisioning this as a metaphor for the trumpet ‘overcoming’ its stereotypes. This is a unique and somewhat “troubled” work played brilliantly by Hardenberger.

Id for orchestra is an early work (1982) whose title refers to Sigmund Freud’s description of the instinctive part of the brain. Wallin also offers some commentary on the current state of “identity” in today’ society and his own sense of the world around him. These explanations are unto themselves worthy of Freud and a bit beyond my grasp. The music itself in Id is dense, complex and full of colorful orchestration and I did rather enjoy the result.

By contrast, Manyworlds is a big, vast work of more than thirty minutes whose structures owe a lot to the organization of blocks of sound into physical characterizations; such as one might create a sculpture. Wallin says he is consistently fascinated with physics and the exploration of dimensional analysis. Again, the composer’s notes in the booklet are barely understandable in lay terms; he writes program notes with the same density and inscrutability as some of the music itself conveys. None the less, I admired the orchestration and flow of this piece; particularly for the nervous energy that seems to ‘push’ it along. It does require patience and careful listening which – at nearly thirty-one minutes – some listeners may not want to invest.

The work by the Bergen Philharmonic here is at its usual high standards. I have heard John Storgårds and this group do modern music before; a genre they do seem quite skilled in and Håkan Hardenberger proves yet again his position as one of the world’s great trumpeters.

A word about the Bluray disc and of the Manyworlds 3D/2D video: I found the Blu-ray to have a bit more depth of presence and a wider range of dynamics than the CD version; but I cannot honestly say that I found the Blu-ray to be dramatically different. (To be honest, I did not listen to both all the way through. I listened to the entirety on CD and then compared the recording of Manyworlds on Blu-ray to that on the CD.)

The video by computer graphics artist Boya Bøckman is intended to be a companion experience to the listening of Manyworlds. Bøckman’s contribution is interesting but I do not see how it enhances or completes the experience of Manyworlds. It is essentially a form of Mandelbrot fractal graphics which does offer some fascinating symmetry and form to watch morph but, again, one can take in Manyworlds just fine without the added video input. (I exist in 2D at my house, incidentally. I do not have the ability in 3D. Perhaps that matters.)

This set will appeal mostly to those very attuned to contemporary avant-garde ‘classical’ works. This is good music but tough listening for the “novice” to these things.

—Daniel Coombs