Per Nørgård: Will-o’-the-Wisps in Town
16 August 2012
The Guardian (UK)
Per Nørgård was one of 10 Danish composers commissioned to write pieces to mark the bicentenary of Hans Christian Andersen in 2005. Nørgård chose to base his piece on one of Andersen's less well-known tales, The Will-o'-the-Wisps Are in Town Said the Marsh Witch, for a "fairytale cantata" including mezzo soprano, actor, two choirs, drummers and orchestra. Soon after, he produced this chamber version amalgamating the roles of the mezzo and the actor, boiling the score down to five instrumentalists, and transforming the choral numbers into arias. In this version, the soloist (the brilliant Helene Gjerris) alternates between narrating Andersen's tale, and singing the arias, which are settings of poems by Suzanne Brøgger that project Andersen's tale into the 21st century. It's a fascinatingly approachable piece, sometimes recalling Pierrot Lunaire or The Soldier's Tale, but more often conjuring up its own, rather quirky fairytale world, full of typical Nørgård gestures and slithering harmonic allusions.