Double Triple Koppel
15 July 2015
Anders Koppel is to a rare degree a composer of his time. With one foot firmly planted in the classical European musical tradition and the other in world music, rock and jazz. So begins the booklet note for this excellent and strikingly bonkers release. For the Concerto for recorder, saxophone and orchestra we have a meeting of sonorities which unites the medieval with the modern in the fantastic combination of Michala Petri’s delicate recorder and Benjamin Koppel’s fruit and smoke jazz-coloured saxophone. This however doesn’t mean that the recorder is forced into a different musical idiom, and it’s a delight to hear Petri sliding and swinging with the rhythmic impulses of the orchestra and her solo partner.
The first movement has some stunningly cinematic writing, and while you can invent your own narrative drama there is a strong likelihood it will include some film noir stereotypes and perhaps a cartoon animal or two. The booklet notes suggest a concerto grosso connection, but in their dialogues between themselves and the orchestra I would say that this is but a distant echo. The central Larghetto is another scene from the same movie: perhaps a plush penthouse suite, the rarefied view from which is penetrating the atmosphere within. The soloists interact, but passions remain largely suppressed, and no-one is laughing at the dry humour from either protagonist. An orchestral passacaglia builds, and is interrupted by an elegant duo cadenza with some lovely ironic touches. The curtains are parted once again, and the shimmering lights of the city adorn a final coda with some fascinating timbres in the orchestration. The energy and not-so-subtle minor-key menace of the final Allegro moderato shakes us out of our reverie, and on top of the restlessly detailed and rousingly melodramatic orchestra there are plenty of virtuoso fireworks from the soloists to keep us on our toes. For a time this looks like ending up as a downbeat denouement, but before too long we are once again chasing amongst the stars and facing down every challenge with fortitude.
The Triple Concerto is scored for mezzo saxophone, cello, harp and orchestra. The mezzo saxophone is a sort of in-between instrument, milder in tone than the soprano sax but with a remarkable upward flexibility and a fine lyrical quality. Benjamin Koppel’s tone is still seductive and jazzy but toned down a little amongst the cello and harp, which both have their own idiosyncratic contributions to make. Near the beginning the cello is made to sing out like some kind of Chinese instrument, and the harp has some moments of punchy syncopation. With the complexity of the orchestration it is the saxophone which comes off best, and while the character of each instrument is explored nicely in the first movement cadenza you have the feeling of three musicians looking away from each other rather than really interacting. The second of two movements is full of fascinating sonorities and interesting musical development, combining simplicity with subtlety, “characterised by a metamorphosis technique where the same themes return, but in gradually changing forms—as in a kaleidoscope which constantly reveals new dimensions of a world that seems familiar. Anders Koppel has a way of combining and uniting moments of apparent banality and strokes of inspired nuance to create something compelling and with a fascinating alchemic mystery of its own.