Erik Norby: The Rainbow Snake - Orchestral Songs and Symphonic Works
19 March 2013
American Record Guide
Danish composer Erik Norby (1936–2007) writes in an impressive neo-late romantic style with a good sense of expanded tonality, lush harmony, and interesting ideas. This program contains three impressive pieces, all with important subtexts and striking ingenuity.
The Rainbow Snake (1975) is a 17-minute tone poem on an Amerindian legend involving a snake becoming a rainbow and saving the people from drought and infertility by uncoiling its body to the heavens and allowing the lifesaving ice to drip from it. The scene is set with mysterious but very beautiful harmony revealing a slowly rising snake in slow motion. It turns into the rainbow in a blaze and radiates splendor as the earth below it blooms. Life goes on as the rainbow fades away.The snake’s hypnotic ascent is set as a slowly rising, quasi-Wagnerian but exotically quasi-octatonic scale with stable tonality maintaining points of stability, and producing shapely melodic gestures emerging from the vapors. The work is strikingly sumptuous, even erotic, and makes for an unexpected revelation worthy of notice.
Rilke-Lieder (1985) is a voluptuous threesong cycle for mezzo and orchestra. All deal with overheated love and are set with Germanexpressionist lyrical density. Solemn and sweaty, with a healthy dollop of Rilkean mysticism, the work retains shades of submerged tonality and is an effective piece of steamy excess. Ms Fischer is rich-voiced and appropriately expressive. The songs were issued in a competing performance on a Point CD in 1990. (I haven’t heard it.)
The Edvard Munch Trilogy (1978–79) is subtitled ‘A Requiem’ and a ‘Symphonic Transformation for orchestra and mixed choir after three of Edvard Munch’s prints’. The texts are from the Requiem Mass and were inspired by poet Ole Sarvig’s interpretations of three Munch prints: ‘The Scream’ (of course), ‘The Sick Child’, and ‘Funeral March’. ‘The Scream’ is expressed by the choir singing “ahah-ah”; the Dies Irae chant on which much of the movement is based is fortunately not quoted, but its text is given a particularly sensitive interpretation instead: the world dissolves into ashes with a lengthy unison that challenges Berg. The Sick Child’s sickroom is haunted by drifting spirits and gloomy sadness. The ‘Funeral March’ is a grim setting of the Lacrimosa text suffused with inconsolable anguish.
Norby’s sullen darkness is not for lightentertainment seekers, but is something of a find for serious listeners seeking a powerful voice unfairly neglected in this country. In fact, only that Point CD accounts for Mr Norby in our index. Performances are excellent.