Per Nørgård: A Light Hour
10 November 2010
Ready for a tantalising tone-feast or two? This through-composed version of a work first performed at the Winter Solstice in Jutland 24 years ago, shows Danish composer Per Nørgård at his most relaxed and rewarding. Intended for ten percussionists, A Light Hour is divided into four sections, each with its own melodic, rhythmic and textural characteristics; they also draw on different traditions, such as Afro-Caribbean music in Part II and the Far East in Part III. The composer specifies that each player produce ‘bright' and ‘dark' sounds from ‘skin, metal and wood', the music itself organised according to his so-called ‘infinity series'. True, that may sound overly schematic-and reminiscent of the improvisational fads of the 1960s-but this is a carefully notated, consistently inspired work that should have wide appeal.
As a recent convert to Nørgård-albeit his post-infinity-series opera Der göttliche Tivoli-I'm constantly astounded by the range of ear-catching sounds he conjures from percussion instruments. The opera-also a Dacapo offering-features a hugely talented group of players called Hoptiquaxes, who underpin the singers with music of vitality and vision. Here, the Percurama Percussion Ensemble, made up of students and teachers from the Royal Danish Academy of Music, is just as committed; as for the airy, unstressed dynamics and detail of this recording, it does the musicians proud.
So what of the work itself? Well, sometimes it's best to cut back on the analysis and let the music speak for itself. Suffice it to say, A Light Hour presents a veritable smörgåsbord of rhythms and sonorities, lightly flavoured by xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel, gamelan and crotales. Surely even those who shy away from such fare will be tempted by its enticing sound-world? And although there's real compositional rigour here you'd never think it, such is the ease and elegance of this music. Miraculously, Nørgård's artful combination and opposition of rhythms and textures makes his inventions sound consistently fresh and spontaneous-and that's quite a feat over 60 minutes. Factor in exemplary playing and sonics and I daresay you'll be coming back for more.