Søren Nils Eichberg: Before Heaven, Before Earth - Symphonies 1 and 2
13 July 2013
ByzantionIn the accompanying booklet Danish-German composer Søren Nils Eichberg says
that his generation "just want[s] to make good music that doesn't make listeners hold their hands to their ears."
A noble sentiment, and his first two symphonies certainly qualify as good music, but likely listener reaction is harder to gauge. Though Eichberg steers well clear of hardcore modernism, these works will likely strike anyone whose tastes extend no further than Nielsen or Brahms as noisy in the extreme. The First Symphony
in particular is often a maelstrom of pounding rhythms and fortissimo tutti. Even the notes describe it as "a violent work, one where brutal boisterous expressions have taken over."
However, though Eichberg may be overly optimistic when it comes to audience reach, he certainly knows how to write exciting orchestral music. The single-movement First Symphony could be used as a soundtrack to any extended cinematic battle scene, such is its thrusting immediacy and churning power. Its title is a quotation from a contemporary Portuguese author's doomsday vision, and the whole work is Eichberg's appeal to humanity not to throw itself again, as it so often has, into the fires of hell.
The aural 'battering' actually begins with the very first bar of the opening Second Symphony. Subtitled Before Heaven, Before Earth after a passage from Laozi's 'Tao Te Ching', the music seems more primeval than transcendental in character, though the slow central section is mystical and contemplative. On the whole though, the Second is an easier introduction to Eichberg's masterfully scored, thrilling symphonies, even sounding, in the final mind-blowing crescendo, not unlike a Bruckner/Wagner hybrid. Another recently recorded work of Eichberg's, Endorphin (for string quartet and strings, PhilHarmonie PHIL06022, 2012), has a similar driven urgency.
Under experienced German conductor Christoph Poppen the Danish National Symphony Orchestra give a terrifically disciplined yet adrenalised account of these highly demanding scores. In the past Dacapo's orchestral recordings have sometimes disappointed with regard to audio quality, but Eichberg benefits here from engineering at its best. A compelling disc, all told, for every bold-leaning lover of big-sounding symphonies.