Poul Ruders: Four Dances
01 April 2010
BBC Music Magazine
It's a measure of Ruders' certainty and consistency as a composer that the Four Dances, composed in 1983, sound as fresh as Abysm from 2000. From the Chinese whispers of the first dance, where solo violin traces the melody woven by solo clarinet, through the slow, almost louche waltz of the second movement and the Stravinskyan rhythmic drive of the third, the pace increases to the finale, where the musical threads are drawn together, though the ending is strangely fragmentary and evanescent. This leads naturally into the much darker world of Nightshade (1987), dominated by subterranean sounds which slither around like a fairy-tale monster: even the brief contrasting passages in a higher register have a sense of menace.
That feeling of threatening darkness comes to a head in Abysm, where the anchor of tonality, always hinted at, and sometimes almost attained in the earlier pieces, is much more elusive and fragmentary. This is not music to ease the soul, and the short central movement, for maniacal piano and woodblocks, does nothing to lighten the mood. Performances are as accurate and committed as you would expect from the BCMG and Knussen, with recorded sound that gives the textures clarity and depth.