SUNLEIF RASMUSSEN (b.1961): Viola Sonata No. 1, Andalag #5, Andalag #7, Fanfare Lontane.
Catalogue Number: 03V067
Description: Rasmussen's works of the last several decades, including all those here, are firmly rooted in tonality, though without forsaking altogether the nature sounds and evocations of the rugged windblown tundra, cliffs and heights of the unique landscape of the far-flung archipelago. Fanfare Lontane is forged of the bracing but wrenching tonal harmonies that lie somewhere between Grainger's wind ensemble works and Nielsen, with a sense of the open air and unspoiled wilderness. A small brass ensemble plays offstage in dialogue with the onstage wind ensemble in two agitated outer movements based on short, insistent, abrupt cells, bracketing a mournful chorale which the chattering brass initially tries to disrupt before being drawn in. The Andalag series of pieces - the title encompasses ideas of spirituality, melody and breathing - are based on two motifs in various instrumental combinations. No.5 begins in a calm landscape, but soon the pastoral calm is repeatedly shattered by a flock of noisy birds, which seems to depart in a swirling murmuration later in the piece. Chattering, quarreling birds seem to be present in the robust No.7, protesting in noisy counterpoint the hunting horns in the lower parts. After a while the music slows and softens, like an overwound mechanism winding down, and the piece becomes a relaxed, conversational dialogue between bassoon and flute, before the restless energy of the first section is resumed. The large-scale Viola Sonata could only have been written by a Faroese composer, so steeped in the folk traditions - by evocation, not imitation - of the islands. It shares with Rasmussen's other works for larger forces the sense of wild, bardic storytelling. The first movement presents a short minor-mode theme, typical of Faroese folk song and dance, which is developed as it ascends and descends the register of the instrument, with microtonal pitch inflections mimicking folk singing. The second is a rough-hewn scherzo. Very effective indeed is the third movement, in which the performer wordlessly sings the main theme as a haunting folk-like melody in imitative counterpoint with the viola part. In the fourth, a ticking col legno accompaniment relentlessly follows a pizzicato variant of the first theme extended into a melodic thread in a playful second scherzo. The bowed coda prefigures the finale, a stormy torrent of oscillating arpeggios, deliberately rough and wild, and worlds away from the comforting tonal undulations of certain types of minimalism; double-stopped melodic interludes over a drone and eventually joined by the wordless vocalist from the third movement emphasize the strange, archaic nature of the music. Aldubáran; Jákup Lützen.