Erik Norby: The Rainbow Snake - Orchestral Songs and Symphonic Works
01 April 2013
This Dacapo CD contains three works by Danish composer Erik Norby (1936-2007). The Rainbow Snake (1975) is a symphonic poem inspired by an Amerindian legend that describes the origin of the rainbow. Rilke-Lieder (1985) for mezzo-soprano and orchestra is a setting of three songs based upon poems by the Austrian-Czech Symbolist poet Rainer Maria Rilke that comment on the nature of love. The final work, Edvard Munch Triology (1979), is subtitled (A Requiem) Symphonic transformation for orchestra and mixed choir after three of Edvard Munch's prints; it is dually a musical interpretation of Munch's prints and of the Catholic Requiem Mass.
Although Erik Norby had experimented with the twelve-tone technique, by the time the works on this CD were written, he had been moving in a completely different direction. While this music is not atonal, Norby's harmonic strategy - one that is highly chromatic, makes use of tone clusters, and only rarely uses identifiable chords and harmony - generally obscures tonal centers. But at the same time, you can hear the harmonic movement and tone center shifts. Adding to this sense of tonal ambiguity are Norby's dense textures, a melodic motion that is commonly in steps or half steps, and the usually dark, sometimes anguished atmosphere of his music.
At the same time, all of this music is colored by a post-romantic sound, with influences of Schoenberg, Berg and even Mahler being apparent. There are other traditional aspects to be found also. Norby uses conventional forms (The Rainbow Snake is in every regard a tone-poem) and familiar methods of orchestration, which are brilliant and powerful. All three works employ large orchestral forces with expanded brass, wind and percussion sections, enhanced further by many instruments of color including alto flute, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, vibraphone, harp and a broad range of percussion instruments.
I was initially drawn to feature this title on E.A. for the symphonic poem The Rainbow Snake. With a masterful and extraordinarily random quality to its rhythms and harmonies, a powerful, generative nature is created. In these performances, conductor (and esteemed composer) Bo Holten leads the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra with mezzo-soprano Hanne Fischer, Coro Misto and Aarhus University Choir. I encourage you to listen to our sample track; this is definitely one for the adventurer.