The Natural World of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen
20 January 2011
Peter Grahame Woolf
This is a mind-blowing CD which we have played several times. Not for
the first time, a relatively little known composer from a Northern
country has opened our ears afresh (the Norwegian lasse Thoresen was the last one).
This choral programme under Paul Hillier is dazzling. The
texts, compelling in themselves, are set with complete originality;
what a welcome change from the German romanticism which dominates the
world of the Lieder.
Many are elliptical, brief and laconic as Japanese haiku, others
of earth shattering power, all translated into unforgettable musical
imagery. This was a composer experienced in the complexities of the
'60s, latterly moving towards his own style, a radical "simplicity", a
Danish variant of minimalism; brief pieces which are self-sufficient and
uniquely satisfying to hear, ponder, and listen to again.
Here we have Gudmundsen-Holmgreen in a wide gamut of styles, with gnomic titles like Examples; Statements & Three Stages, the last commisioned by Paul Hillier for a programme to include the Gibbons Cries of London. Hillier recommends non-Danish speakers to follow the texts closely whilst listening; they are all provided in parallel Danish/English texts, making it easy to do so.
Quite another matter is the Madrigals, which complete the disc with a tour-de-force. That title work of the disc, Four Madrigals from the Natural World (2001)
to texts in English by Les Murray, is of such daunting complexity that I
obtained the score, and at first found it as hard to the work as
music. It was as hard at first to follow the music on the page as it
must have been for the singers to learn them. The words are no more than
jumping-off stimulants to the composer's imagination, giving a context
for extravagant music. Vocalisations for Bats and Elephants take
extended vocal techniques (especially stratospheric soprano melismata
for the former) to the limits of complexity, which gradually reveals
itself as of extreme beauty too.
These were sent to me in two versions, one for "6 to 12 part
chorus", as recorded by the crack Ars Nova Copenhagen, the other for six
voices, a version which might make rewarding study for some of our
keenest singing students aspiring towards careers in contemporary
opera. [Might there be an up-coming madrigal group in one of our music
colleges/academies working towards following the achievement of this
year's 8-cellos Cellophony at the annual PLGYA week?]
This great CD will leave you eager to explore further the music of , which is recorded extensively by Dacapo.