on 2 April 2012
The Second Symphony of Pehr Henrik Nordgren was composed in 1989 and is longer than the fourth. Its contrasts are more violent and its unifying elements harder to identify. But its coherence remains striking. Even in a densely complex tutti or a texture thinned down to nothing more than a string shimmer and a few isolated piano notes you can gain a sense of movement and purposeful direction.
I found the darkly eloquent Fourth Symphony of 1997 to be an ideal introduction to Nordgren's impressive soundworld (which stretched to an eighth symphony in the year of his death - 2008). It is richly scored and dense in texture. It begins turbulently, and rises to some forbidding, dissonant climaxes. But the complexity is built from simple constituents - a phrase apparently from Boris Godunov or a Finnish folk melody - and from the centre to the end of the symphony the textures clear to reveal a solitary herdsman playing a pipe and a hushed, solemn string chorale. The effect is moving, but the presence of those simple motifs after the uproar that surrounds these oases of tense calm gives them a grandeur and nobility. The whole work exudes a powerful sense of drama. It makes you really want to find out 'what it's about'!
Finlandia have often pioneered first recordings, and I have no alternative recorded interpretations to assess these performances against, but the conductor, Juha Kangas has a long association with this composer and authenticity is guaranteed.
The sound has been said to be just a little 'boxy' (but because I got the mp.3 download I cannot be sure if this is the reason). It still sounds very impressive. This is a very worthwhile purchase and an issue of some importance within the the increasing discography of late 20th century Scandinavian music.
I will be searching out more Nordgren!
on 7 March 2009
These two one-movement symphonies by the late Finnish composer Pehr Henrik Nordgren are guaranteed to please those who enjoy dark symphonic music. Both are roaming journeys through strange lands of shadow. A feeling of isolation and menace dominates conjuring post-apocalyptic visions or perhaps otherwordly adventures. Edgy, delicate, sinister, enigmatic and bleak: monochrome soundscapes that captivate.
There are so many wonderful living Finnish composers that you hardly know where to start these days. Nordgren died in 2008 (born in 1944) so whilst not living he's of that generation. He studied for a time in Japan and he admitted that this had a strong influence on his aesthetic outlook. You'll be disappointed if you're looking for Japanese exotica here though. The influence can be seen in the music being quite static however. Both symphonies are very serious - quite dark in typically northern vein.
The Second is the tougher work, harmonically with a sour and animated opening giving way to a long but uneasy stasis. The more agitated music makes the occasional appearance before the music drifts back to its opening theme. A simple concept then but not easy going. Add to the Japanese influece perhaps the chordal block writing of Gorecki - albeit early and tough harmonically. It's a convincing structure with no side roads explored. The long quiet stasis and louder outbursts remind me a little of Giya Kancheli - though less tonally centred.
The same could be said of the Fourth except it pits a folk like melody (somewhere between Sibelius and Shostakovich) against more dissonant, non functional harmonies. The symphony explores this conflict throughout. The work tries to reconcile the two types of music by its conclusion. Without ever shifting radically, this sounds a more dramatic work and has the air of heroic stoicism that you'll find in some of Peteris Vasks orchestral works. With more tonally centred material and a more dramatic scenario this symphony is likely to attracted more attention than the Second.
Both symphonies are very serious minded and worthy additions to the repertoire though I can't help feeling that other composers have trodden this path more convincingly - such as Vasks. They're still well worth exploring.
The sound isn't the best I've heard from Finland - a little boxed in a times but no orchestral detail gets lost - I think. Overall then, recommended if you like dark nordic symphonies.