Music Of Poul Ruders, Vol. 6 / Søndergard, Norwegian Radio Orchestra
RUDERS Piano Concerto No. 2 1. Serenade on the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean 2. Bel Canto 3 • 1 Vassily Primakov (pn); 1 Thomas Søndergard, cond; 1 Norwegian RO; 2 Mikko Luoma (acc); 2 iO Str Qrt; 3 Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen (vn) • BRIDGE 9336 (64:03)
Bridge Records, a company primarily known for its commitment to contemporary American composers like Elliott Carter, continues to promote the music of the Dane Poul Ruders (b.1949). This disc is the sixth in its Ruders series. It contains compelling performances of two recent works of considerable power.
Ruders’s music has been described as a triumph of stylistic pluralism. What that means in listener’s terms is that you can never be sure the composer is going in the direction you think he is; he retains a genuine ability to surprise. Both the larger works on this disc provide examples of this. His very recent Piano Concerto No. 2 (2009–10) begins in a relatively romantic vein, evident more in its flow than its thematic material or harmony, but as the movement evolves the piano develops an almost aggressive desperation: a determination to break the formal and harmonic boundaries with frequent attacks and note clusters. The roles are reversed in the extraordinary slow movement. This consists for the most part of a tentative, exploratory line of single notes in the piano’s treble, discreetly supported by vibraphone, harp, and a solo violin. The soft, meandering solo is confronted from time to time by orchestral onslaughts of dissonant brass, squealing piccolos, and fearsome fortissimos , which seem to have no effect on the dissociative soloist, although the first of these interruptions would probably have a visceral effect on concertgoers in a live performance! In the third and final movement, the piano takes control and ushers in a brilliant and rapid moto perpetuo that crams as many notes as possible into its four and a half minutes. Ruders uses a traditional framework but fills it with quirky episodes, unexpected colors, and—in a phrase—pushes the concerto envelope. The work is similarly formal in shape but more wide-ranging in effect than his first Piano Concerto of 1994.
Color is at the forefront of Serenade on the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean , a 2004 suite in nine continuous movements for accordion and string quartet. Here Ruders displays great imagination in his exploitation of the extremes of the accordion’s range, and by blending it into the many textural devices available to the quartet. The work is inspired by literature from a variety of sources, including Shakespeare, Darwin, and Conrad; quotations or references preface each section. It begins with a cataclysmic explosion of sound (tone clusters from the accordion predominate), which gradually morphs into a passage of warm, lyrical beauty and eventually into single, long-held high notes, rather the way a composition by Silvestrov proceeds. We move through many moods, some incorporating a degree of grotesquery in galumphing ostinatos or deep growls from the lowest reaches of the solo instrument. Then in contrast the composer will lure us into pure neoromanticism—as in the sixth movement, “Threnos,” prefaced by a quotation from Shakespeare’s The Phoenix and the Turtle : “Beauty, truth and rarity / Grace in all simplicity / Here enclosed in cinders lie.” At all times in this work, as is usual with Ruders, the listener has little idea what is coming next.
The accompanying Bel Canto (also 2004) is for solo violin, commissioned by the Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition. As the title suggests it is primarily a cantabile , although there are moments of double-stopping in minor seconds to provide the unexpected. A folk or hymn-like tune brings the lament to a quiet close.
The music on this recording is a challenge but also a pleasure to get to know. It is performed with dedication and brilliance; I can’t praise highly enough the talents of pianist Primakov, violinist Sørensen, the iO Quartet (whose personnel are violinists Christina McGann and Sarah Crocker, violist Elizabeth Weisser, and cellist Chris Gross) and the remarkable accordion virtuoso Mikko Luoma. Want List material.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Catalog Number: BCD9336
Label: Bridge Records
Composer: Poul Ruders
Conductor: Thomas Sondergård
Orchestra/Ensemble: Io String Quartet, Norwegian Radio Orchestra
Performer: Mikko Luoma, Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, Vassily Primakov