PEHR HENRIK NORDGREN (1944-2008): String Quartet No. 3*, Equivocations for Kantele and String Trio, Sonata for Solo Cello*, String Quintet. * - First Recordings.

Catalogue Number: 06T059

Label: Alba

Reference: ABCD 421

Format: SACD hybrid

Price: $18.98

Description: Nordgren has written extensively for strings - eleven quartets for a start, spanning much of his career (see 01M078) - and in fact an early impetus to his becoming a composer at all was the gift of a violin at an early age, and it remained his instrument thereafter. His wide-ranging æsthetic, drawing on his studies in Japan, Nordic folk music - the more ancient the better - and his 'mentor in absentia', Shostakovich, is on full display here, in works that share his trademark sense of epic, bardic narrative and consistency of voice despite his disparate influences and idiosyncratic means of expression. The Quartet was written in 1976 (its predecessors were very early works), and followed a period of Japanese-influenced works with a return to more or less conventional western quartet writing. The work is in one movement, based on tonal progressions of a rather oblique sort, and is taut and discursive in mood, with a simple interval expanding into a kind of note-row and contracting again, this process forming the main argument of the piece, with abrupt intrusions of other material. Equivocations - the very title is, well, equivocal, sets up all manner of contrasts and contradictions as its argument. The solo instrument is the kantele, a traditional Finnish zither-like instrument with a clear, bell-like tone and a very sharp attack. The idea of using a folk instrument in a more modern idiom came from observation of Japanese contemporary music employing traditional instruments such as the koto, which Nordgren adopted himself, though this work contains no Japanese nor folk music. It could be a piano quartet, but the relationship between the kantele and the strings gives it a completely different texture. A few Shostakovichian phrases anchor it to the western chamber music tradition as a vehicle for intricate argument and communication. The same is true of the cello sonata, in many ways the most conventional work here, a deeply expressive work of great emotional depth in four movements; in turn poetic, virtuosic, hushed, and reflective. The quintet is the most recent work here, from 2000, and it incorporates deeply resonant echoes of archaic Karelian melodies, reminiscent of Nordgren's extraordinary Taivaanvalot (01L083). The introductory first movement presents a motif that tries to develop a minimalistic pulse, but soon develops dense entanglements of the phrases, fragments and dissolves. The much larger second movement is an expansive, almost Sibelian landscape, with moments of breathtaking still beauty, which gradually evolves from sinewy polyphony to simple, resigned melody at the close. Eija Kankaanranta (kantele), Kokkola Quartet and other performers.

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