Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Play it again, Sakari

I'm in Boston. Please, GOOD GOD D*MN, enough Mahler. I have enough exceptional, remarkable performances of Mahler at home, recorded over 60 years, and not likely to be bettered on any night I'd attend. More Antheil, Atterberg, Bathory-Kitsz, Bax, Bendix, Berwald, Brian, Cooman, Doyhnanyi, Enescu, Gould, Harris, Harrison, Hartmann, Holmboe, Honneger, Ives, Janacek (not just the Sinfonietta), Jolivet, Kalliwoda, Martinu, Mennin, Nielsen (either one), Panufnik, Petterson, Piston, Quincy Porter ... and that's just to P. If the visiting conductors stamp their little feet about Mahler symphonies, give them Emerson Whithorne's 2nd [listen here] and lock them in a room to study it.
A reader left that comment on my post 'Should a modern maestro decline to conduct Mahler?'. That post has been well-received, so I am now featuring a CD from a modern maestro who is not afraid to defy the all-pervasive Mahler algorithms. Sakari Oramo is, as he proved at this year's Proms, a very accomplished Mahler interpreter. But he is also not afraid to deviate from the algorithmically defined straight and narrow. These deviations brought an invaluable overview of John Foulds' music while at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and a memorable William Alwyn First Symphony at the Proms in his first season as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Moreover during his tenure at the Finnish Radio Symphony Oramo programmed music from, among others, Kaija Saariaho, Kimmo Hakola, Jouni Kaipainen, Armas Launis and Ernest Pingoud.

In 2013 Sakari Oramo recorded the First and Eighth Symphonies of Per Nørgård (b. 1932) with the Vienna Philharmonic no less. Per Nørgård was influenced by Sibelius - the First Symphony briefly quotes from Tapiola - and came into contact with the great man during the Finnish composer's last years. But the much clearer influence is the more abrasive music of Per Nørgård's teacher and fellow Dane Vagn Holmboe (1906-1996). Per Nørgård's First Symphony, which is subtitled Sinfonia austera, dates from the mid-1950s. While showing the influence of established masters such as Sibelius and Shostakovich, it is in no way derivative. In the symphony Per Nørgård's unique voice is heard emerging, a voice that reaches its apogee in his Eighth and to date last symphony composed in 2010-11. In the Eighth tonality is more distant, and the symphony - particularly the chimerical Adagio - inhabits a sound world that we can speculate Sibelius sought but never reached in his own abandoned Eighth Symphony.

The First and Eighth Symphonies were recorded by the Danish Dacapo label as part of a cycle of Per Nørgård's symphonies; the other symphonies are conducted by John Storgards - who is the dedicatee of the Eighth - and Thomas Dausgaard. Dacapo is a proponent of the SACD format and the sound captured in the Wiener Konzerthaus is both impressive and totally natural. Per Nørgård is prolific and among his 400+ compositions is the opera/ballet Siddhartha also released by Dacapo. This featured in a 2010 Overgrown Path post.



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