I have two degrees in classical music performance from two very fine American conservatories. I have played a lot of contemporary music, most of it highly avant-garde and unlistenable in my opinion but that is the nature of academic composition. Tommie Haglund, a rural Swedish man just turned 50, is clearly a cut above the university cognoscenti. His is a lucid mind seeking the mysteries of existence, nothing wrong with that, I am simpatico with him there, and he isn't awash in the praises of sycophantic students crouching at his feet as they do in college symposiums in professor's front rooms.
BUT, and this is my big but (to quote Pee Wee Herman in his Big Adventure), I am old enough now to admit that I prefer music with a heart.
There are plenty of other ways to feed the mind, with books, films, art, conversation etc. But, for me, music is in an entirely higher zone of Creation. The three pieces on this cd are beautifully crafted, thought out and interesting, up to a point. I was put in mind of the late English composer Robert Simpson, whose 9 symphonies and string quartets have long been benchmarks of modern European composition. Simpson's music is really rather amazing and I listened to some of those pieces for awhile until I realized that, like Arnold Schönberg's more arid compositions, these symphonies and string quartets left me dangling in a musical cyberspace. Haglund, who depends a little too much on loud, dissonant tone-clusters, leaves one in a similar place only less satisfied. It's all just so exclusively intellectual, and that gets tiresome after about 10 minutes.
The violin writing in Hymns to the Night is brilliant and it is magnificently executed by the American violinist Elizabeth PItcairn, playing the famous 'Red Mendelssohn' Stradivarius. I admit that I bought this cd almost as much from a desire to hear that instrument close up as for any other reason. I'd like to hear it, and Miss Pitcairn, in the Sibelius Concerto rather than Haglund's type of music. Violinists should like this work if for no other reason than to enjoy Pitcairn's splendid performance.
The other two works on this cd involve chamber instrumentation and a couple of sopranos. They are the same in character as Hymns to the Night. I had listened to Philip Glass's opera Les Enfants Terribles prior to plopping the Haglund into the cd player. It's hard to beat Glass for a contemporary composer. Love him or hate him he has heart and his music is always compelling and very often quite moving. Glass has had some duds but not many. Anyway, compared to the Glass opera, scored for three pianos, Haglund's music pales by comparison.
Composition students will want to hear this cd because Haglund IS a fine composer, he's just not for me. About once every 2 or 3 years I stick my toe in the contemporary compositional waters and, aside from Philip Glass, who has been around quite awhile now, I have been disappointed.
Violinists, composers... get this cd. If you think there might be something new under the sun, as I had hoped, save your dollars and investigate further into Philip Glass for your modern consciousness fix.