Per Nørgård: Songs from Evening Land - Helene Gjerris sings Per Nørgård
16 May 2013
American Record Guide
Robert A Moore
Danish mezzo Gjerris has been the singer most closely associated with the vocal works of her countryman Per Nørgård, and it was her initiative that led to this collaboration with the composer in a survey of his vocal works. The program presents nine from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1980s (some of them revised for this recording) on texts by Pär Lagerkvist, Rainer Maria Rilke, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Eluard, Arthur Rimbaud, and Adolf Wölfli.
Songs from Evening Land is a 1956 cycle of seven songs. The experience of daylight and darkness in Scandinavia shaped what he called “the universe of the Nordic mind”—a force that he believed helped unite the Nordic cultures. Nørgård worked with a variety of compositional techniques, including serialism and his own “infinity series” based on the mathematical theories of Benoit Mandelbrot. The austere, rigorous, and often icy tenor of much of this music reflects the severe Nordic climate.
The composer calls for a broad range of vocal technique, including dramatic recitation, sprechgesang, and unusual vocal gymnastics; and Gjerris’s performance of this demanding music is a tour de force. Texts are in Swedish, German, English, French, and Danish; and she shows her proficiency in all those languages.
The most striking work here is Plutonium Ode, his 1980s setting of fragments from Ginsberg’s angry response to the prospect of nuclear annihilation. The work begins with a long recitation, spoken dramatically in clearly enunciated English, followed by a challenging recitative and aria with dramatic intervals and dynamic contrasts.
The final work is a hauntingly beautiful 2012 arrangement of ‘Abendlied’ from Two Wölfli Lieder for Choir of 1980, with Gjerris recording all four choral parts and Sørensen providing gamelan improvisation. If you don’t know Nørgård’s music, this is a great place to begin, but it’s not for the fainthearted.