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Dacapo - The National Music Anthology of Denmark

Format:  SACD

Catalogue Number:  6.220548

Barcode:  747313154869

Release month:  Oct 2008

Period:  21st Century


Kronos plays Holmgreen

02 March 2009  American Record Guide
Paul Cook

I don't think I've heard the Kronos Quartet sounding better than this. Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's music is spectral and quite Nordic (perfect for Kronos) with traces of Stravinsky's rhythmic elements as well as bits of Schnittke's humor without that composer's clamor or his homages to other composers or styles. Certain elements of minimalism do haunt the opening section of Concerto Grosso (2006), but these come in the form of pizzicato passages, and mostly the mood is somber and graceful (the composer himself called this work ‘turgid', but I don't find it turgid at all). The abiding structural format of this work is definitely baroque, especially in the manner of Vivaldi (here is where I get that sense of Schnittke's ghost). Gudmundsen-Holmgreen also likes to throw in discordant elements where he can, and in this he reminded me of Leif Segerstam's early symphonies. It all makes for interesting music for those of us who like twists and turns and the odd humorous gesture, but it can be uncomfortable for others.

Moving Still (2004) bears the subtitle, ‘HC Andersen 200' and comes in an English version and a Danish one. Here the use of minimalist techniques come into play more overtly as, in I, called ‘Moving (Europe Seen in a Week)', he describes a futuristic journey from Europe to America. There is no actual singing for Mr Hillier in I. He merely recites from Hans Christian Andersen's poetry, and his voice has equal standing with the quartet. II is called ‘Still (In Denmark Where I Was Born)' and opens with the patriotic melody, ‘In Danmark er jeg Fodt', sung this time by Mr Hillier. This is a very quiet movement infused with every ounce of true romanticism that the composer has; then he lets his hair down, so to speak. His sense of humor unfolds as he injects a boogie-woogie that evolves into music that is curiously Arabic. And all of it works.

Last Ground (2006) is for strings and ocean sounds, though birds, wind, and rain are in there as well. This will strike many as familiar territory, common to the music of Einojuhani Rautavaara though with less reliance on recurrent melodies. It's a work of moods that begins with sea sounds and ends with a storm that drowns out the quite tones carried by the Kronos Quartet. This last work seems gimmicky, almost a throwaway, since composers have been using tape-loops and recorded sounds (including animal and bird sounds) for about 100 years. But this acerbic music has considerable charms, and anyone familiar with very modern Scandinavian music will like this work quite a lot...Yet the recording transcends mere excellence- indeed, the true miracle of this recording is its sound. This includes the harrowing Concerto Grosso-a concert performance very cleanly edited.

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