PER NØRGÅRD - Symphonies 1 and 8

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PER NØRGÅRD - Symphonies 1 & 8 - Vienna Philharmonic - Sakari Oramo (Conductor) - 747313157464 - Released: June 2014 - Dacapo 6.220574

The Symphony No. 1 "Sinfonia austera" Op. 13 by Danish composer Per Nørgård (b. 1932) is a powerful and impressive piece of music, made even more so by this thrilling performance by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Sakari Oramo. For an orchestra highly recognized for its top caliber interpretations of the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler, they certainly seem to be just as much in their element here stepping out into Danish territory, playing music by a modern, visionary, and constantly shifting composer. The musicians seem to relish every note they play individually, which generates a perfect orchestral balance of transparency and impact.

Per Nørgård studied under Vagn Holmboe, another woefully neglected master Danish composer. As a matter of fact, it's upon hearing his Symphony No. 8 that Nørgård himself decided to compose his Symphony No. 1 in 1953. They share the same sound, although Nørgård's sound world inhabits darker corners. In some instances I find he sounds a bit like Allan Pettersson on steroids. More muscular and agitated. The opening movement of this symphony may be short, but it's 13 minutes of concentrated genius. The plaintive three-note motif that sets the tone of the work forges its way through the orchestral fabric like a snake through tall grass. You may not always discern it clearly, but it's there. Shaping, molding and moving the music forward in great leaps. In particular the pacing of this forward momentum is perfectly timed, with an equal balance of conflict and resolution, of tension and release. In other words, symphonic argument at its best. If you follow the thread of the music carefully, you will find the conclusion of this movement to be powerful, and yet enigmatic and somewhat disturbing. At least I did.

Now the Symphony No. 8 (2011) is a totally different animal. Nørgård went through many vastly different stages over the years to reach this new multi-layered style of writing. Multiple strands of music, in unrelated keys, overlap each other and create a soundscape of constantly shifting shapes and colors. And again the musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic manage to produce a cohesive and opulent sound out of all this chaos. This is the world première recording of this symphony, and the composer could not have dreamed of a better orchestra to do the honors. Recorded "live" in sumptuous sound by the engineers at Dacapo, Denmark's national record label.

2015 Gramophone Award Winner.

Jean-Yves Duperron - July 2014