Per Nørgård: Songs from Evening Land - Helene Gjerris sings Per Nørgård
29 May 2013
Nørgård songs from his devotee soprano Gjerris
Helene Gjerris has been singing Per Nørgård’s songs for more than 25 years and this disc is the fruit of that experience, the selection having been arrived at by mutual agreement. She takes on cycles designated for soprano, mezzo and contralto alike, encompassing spoken declamation, recitative and continuous arioso, with texts in Danish, German, English, French and Swedish, and authors ranging from Shakespeare, Rimbaud and Rilke to Paul Éluard, Allen Ginsberg and Ted Hughes. The repertoire itself covers nearly 60 years, from the Two Recitatives with solo cello that open the disc to the hallucinatory, multitracked remix of one of Nørgård’s choral Wölfli songs at the end of it. Often the lyrical voice seems to have climbed out of the pages of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire: Nørgård is for the most part less exhibitionist but there is a comparable marriage of free atonality to semi-mystical existential angst, displaying sovereign rhythmic freedom, and an economical yet productive tension with varied instrumental accompaniment (which largely spurns the piano).
The shift between decades makes for some variety of tone, but even for fully paid-up Nørgårdians such as myself, 79 minutes at one stretch is a bit much. I would not have objected to some faster, lighter, even humorous settings, though that’s not really Nørgard’s style. The spoken Recitations of the Plutonian Ode feel to me like a minor miscalculation. But at the other extreme, the kaleidoscopic vocal colours of the Hughes setting in Day and Night are spot-on. In between there is the exploratory postexpressionist beauty that Nørgård has made his own. This, then, is a reference disc for collectors of Nørgård and serious contemporary song, and performances, recording and presentation all do the music proud.