Anders Koppel: Marimbakoncerter
21 May 2015
Anders Koppel (b. 1947), son of the composer and pianist Herman D. Koppel (1908–1998) and father to the saxophonist Benjamin Koppel (b. 1974), is a musician of wide interests. He began playing both clarinet and piano at a young age, before later broadening his horizons, engaging in many musical experiments in the 1960s and 1970s. He performed as organist in the rock band Savage Land from 1967 to 1974, before subsequently immersing himself in composition. And not only do all genres of music intrigue him—classical, jazz, pop, rock, world, and more—but he has also tried his hand at virtually every musical style, composing music for orchestra, ensemble, and the music to around 200 films, plays, and ballets. The current recital, including his four marimba concertos composed over the span of around 10 years between 1995 and 2006, highlights his numerous influences well.
The Concerto No. 1 for Marimba and Orchestra was initially composed for the finals of the International Percussion Competition in Luxembourg in 1995; it has become a staple for many young percussionists, having been performed more than 300 times in concert. And there is good reason: The music is enchanting. The opening movement is dark, even mysterious in character, its opening marimba solo dramatically answered by the full orchestra, which takes the same theme and expand upon it. The battle between the forces has just begun. The slow movement contrasts beautifully with its more mystical and dreamy elements, highlighting the numerous timbres that the marimba is capable of producing. The solo violin adds a much-needed sensuality to the tonal landscape. The final movement is toccata-like with its virtuosic, syncopated theme. It perfectly brings the concerto to a rousing close, giving the soloist a chance to show off during the fiery cadenza.
The Concerto No. 2 for Marimba and String Orchestra differs from the first in a number of ways. It uses only the strings to accompany the soloist; it is written in one large movement (though is broken up into three separate tracks on the CD), with the thematic material throughout seeming more interconnected; and the opening and closing of the concerto are quiet. The piece feels more serious in tone, and also more sensuous and beguiling as well.
The Concerto No. 3 for Marimba and Orchestra, subtitled “Linzer,” was written for the Austrian marimba virtuoso Martin Grubinger, who gave its premiere with the Bruckner Orchestra in Linz. This concerto too feels cut from a different mold than either the First or Second concertos, yet one is always aware of a connection between the works in terms of tonal language and instrumental dialogue. Here the brass instruments play a larger part, asserting themselves right from the opening of the concerto. The heart of the composition is truly the middle movement of three, though, where the playful marimba counters the more pensive and legato strings. It is the most intimate of any of the movements found in these concertos and one of the most dramatic as well.
Written in 2006 for the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, the Concerto No. 4 for Marimba and Orchestra likewise is subtitled: “In Memory of Things Transient.” It is broken up into eight separate movements, more like a suite than a traditional concerto. It was inspired by a trip the composer and his wife took to a Swedish forest on a hot summer’s day. The composer relates his experience: “In the middle of a darkening—or rather a clearing—we suddenly caught sight of a small ancient marble stone fenced in by a rusty iron chain. The stone was half crumbled, but the inscription could still be made out –‘In memory of things transient’, it said. The words struck us with surprising force, and set our thoughts in motion. That we humans must die is something we can live with; but that music too—eternal music, Mozart’s music—will someday vanish, is harder to come to terms with.” Rather than a dark and ominous piece, however, this one seems lighter in mood than any of the first three concertos. In a sense, it is a celebration of life, of that transient quality of performance.
The small encore-like P.S. to a Concerto was written in 1995 after the composer heard the first performance of his first concerto at the Luxembourg competition. The short work—lasting around two and a half minutes in total—makes for a fine addendum to the concerto, one which shows off the numerous capabilities of the instrument.
Throughout the recital, the young Polish percussionist Marianna Bednarska (around 20 years old at the time of this recording) shows herself to be not only a tremendously gifted artist in terms of sheer instrumental virtuosity, but also a highly thoughtful and emotional musician of the first order. Backed by the fine playing of the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra under Henrik Vagn Christensen, one could not ask for better ensemble playing nor instrumental dialogue than one gets here. This is a fabulous disc, one which I plan to return to over and over again in the coming months.
Were my annual Want List for the year due this month, this would be at the top of it. Will it still be in nine months? Bets are a pretty high yes.