18 May 2012
Dr. Debra Jan Bibel
The last time I encountered accordion concertos, other than the work by Piazzolla of its cousin the bandoneón, was during the Soviet era and that was based, as expected, on Russian folk music. Thus, this album was full of surprises. Recently, the Kronos Quartet had teamed with Finnish accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen for a rather New Age, atmospheric album, but these works are in the classical idiom. Here, Ole Schmidt, the first of the Danish representatives, wrote an amusing, playful fantasy, where the accordion seems to be narrating a satire. It is the oldest composition (1958). The sound of the instrument is peculiar itself: it may suggest a circus calliope, or harmonica, or folk harmonium, or even a pseudo-electronic keyboard. Anders Koppel's concerto is more serious, with elements of dance, jazz, and cinematic atmospheres. The accordion is played at its upper register, hence the suggestion of piccolo. The second movement, the largo, has much of the melancholic lyricism of tango without its rhythm and ends with bass notes (some piccolo!). A waltzing scherzo is the concluding movement, marked by sarcasm and virtuosic bravado reminiscent of Shostakovich. The next piece, by Martin Lohse, In Liquid..., begins with a moderately slow, quiet flowing; the middle section starts, or barely starts, in a hesitant fashion and then becomes dramatic with various tempi and tensions. The work closes with a slow, minimalistic pensive reverie. Recall, the final selection, is Per Nørgård's work for symphony, revised for chamber ensemble. The composer reflects on youthful listening to Balkan folk music. The piece begins in quiet reflection, a striving to recall the effect if not the actual melodies and rhythms. Indeed, at times the rhythms and arrangements seem to my ears Latin American. Thus, the composition is entertaining, light and frolicking, with jagged sparkles. Drums and brass propel the folkloric dances. The album ends well with the listener's spirits uplifted. Performing these pieces is accordionist Bjarke Mogensen, who makes a case for the instrument as worthy, if unusual, for serious classical compositions. His sure-fingered, rapid cadenzas and emotional interpretations bring out the best in the concerti. Rolf Gupta leads the Danish National Chamber Orchestra. This is a SACD album, suitable for regular and surround-sound players. Repeated listening, once the shock is past, should bring a new appreciation for the accordion.