BO HOLTEN (b.1948): The Emperor’s New Clothes for Tenor, Baritone, Chorus and Orchestra, Oboe and Concerto, Songs of Dusk for Soprano, Bassoon and Orchestra.
Catalogue Number: 11W054
Format: SACD hybrid
Description: Holten, who has declared that composing without tonal harmony is like "painting without colour" demonstrates once again in these three very different but stylistically consistent works that gifted with a prodigious imagination and a wealth of performing experience it is indeed possible to write works of great originality in an idiom that is simultaneously of our time and rooted in the historical tradition. The Oboe Concerto is a marvellously evocative half-hour work in six sections. Subtitled Il Romanesco, it was written in Rome, and draws on Mediæval and Baroque Italian music in a rich tapestry of historical resonance and dramatic contour. Beginning with a brief introduction that quotes a Mediæval Roman melody, the first movement is a richly varied passacaglia, introduced by the soloist. Two tarantellas from the same period, harmonized to sound both archaic and modern, are separated by a strange Cadenza, in which the oboe part is constantly dislocated by pained glissandi while being pursued through shadowy landscape haunted by hunting horns. In the second tarantella we seem to be diverted from the celebratory street scene by entering a church, where a solemn chorale prelude suggests a ceremony in progress while the dancing parade filters through from the street outside in a wonderful episode of musical theatre. The following Romanza and Tranquillo epilogue are full-blown, Straussian Romanticism, the former accumulating a powerful climax before a brief reminiscence of the concerto's main theme, drawing out allusions to Handel, Schumann, and Strauss' Four Last Songs. That work also looms large in the background of Songs of Dusk, settings of poems by Sophus Claussen (an exact contemporary of Carl Nielsen), of whom Holten disarmingly admits: "I find his poetry deeply moving but it is basically always about women and sex". Typically of Holten, he brings in musical allusions from all over the place, leavening the potent blend of love, passion, longing and eroticism with the musical equivalents of the playful irreverence and teasing wit of some - not all - of the poems. Thus a baroque ground bass veers dangerously near to a jazz bass line, an impassioned lament about the pains and impermanence of love is set as a formal baroque dance; another song subverts a nursery rhyme tune, and so on. But the Romantic passions always pull the music in the direction of the sumptuous romanticism, which finally finds full voice in the crepuscular farewell of the final song. The Emperor's New Clothes is a witty, clever trifle from the pre-eminent Danish composer of lyric opera, perfectly framing H.C.Anderson's tale of punctured vanity and vainglory. The pretentious swindler who addresses the emperor in French, to Ravel-tinctured music; the incredulous commentary of the chorus; the operatic desperation of the courtiers who dare not admit that they are blind to the beauty of the non-existent garments; and finally the riotous crowd scene (to pompous, strident marching music) after the innocent child exposes the emperor, so to speak; all components in a pitch-perfect satirical comedy entertainment. Danish-English texts. Gert Henning-Jensen (tenor), Palle Knudsen (baritone), Vocal Ensemble Musica Ficta, Max Artved (oboe), Christine Nonbo Andersen (soprano), Morten Østergaard (bassoon), Odense Symphony Orchestra; Bo Holten.