Spell (1973) for clarinet, cello and piano followed Nørgård’s Symphony No 2 and, like that piece, uses the Infinity Series (the composer’s personal integer sequence) to set up a gorgeous self-perpetuating structure that is flicked like a spinning top on to its path for the composer to nudge now and then when he needs to. And this composer knows exactly when he needs to: the modulation at 8’26”, the clarinet glissando that follows and the symmetrical wind-down that brings the music to its pleasingly shy ending.
There is symmetry, too, in Whirl’s World (1970), a work related to Nørgård’s seminal Voyage into the Golden Screen (1968), which advances certain foundations laid by the composer’s Nordic forbears (Sibelius included) in establishing a tight pattern from which listeners can discern their own musical forms. It works because Nørgård gathers his material with a care and clarity, which itself sorts out momentum. The aforementioned symmetry helps; the piece is almost a clear palindrome. The mini geometric mosaics that form Trio breve (2012) feel like dispersed shrapnel from these bigger pieces.
In between, we hear the full breadth of the music Nørgård wrote for Gabriel Axel’s 1987 film realisation of Karen Blixen’s short story Babette’s Feast (only a tenth of it made it into the picture, which won Denmark its first Academy Award). Still Nørgård winds his structures tightly, which sets up the claustrophobia of the village setting nicely in ‘Babette by Herself’ and gets right to the heart of the volume title, Anecdotes of Destiny, in the vibrato-less ditties of ‘Pastoral’ and ‘Homecoming’ (the whole book is really about retaining worldliness and humility in the presence of grandeur and greatness).
Those two, in particular, are gorgeously played, with a lightness of bow contact that stands in total contrast to the deep engagement we heard in the cello solo of Spell, to cite just one instance of stylistic flexibility in performances that are sublime and knowing. I can think of few composers of the last half a century whose music is so disciplined yet so heartfelt, so original yet so rooted. These are precious values and the unassuming, plain-speaking nature of the music here only proves it. Andrew Mellor
Weinberg Piano Trio, Op 24a. Three Pieces. Violin Sonata No 6, Op 136bis Gidon Kremer vn aGiedrė Dirvanauskaitė vc Yulianna Avdeeva pf DG F 483 7522GH (59’ • DDD)
DG follows its release of Weinberg symphonies (6/19) with one of chamber music featuring members of Kremerata Baltica. Works for violin and piano frame almost the entirety of this composer’s output: the Three Pieces (1934) find the teenager working through the influence of Szymanowski in the high-flown eloquence of its Nocturne then of Bartók in its tensile Scherzo, before he arrives at a far more personal idiom in ‘Dream about a Doll’ with its striking interplay of ominousness and whimsy. Forward almost five decades and the Sixth Violin Sonata (1982) yields an emotional impact that belies its compression – the first movement recalling Ustvolskaya in its stark opposition of irreconcilable forces mediated in the brief Adagio, before the finale brings their fraught confrontation and fateful dispersal.
The Piano Trio (1945) is among the finest works of Weinberg’s early maturity. Less substantial while no less involving than the Piano Quintet which preceded it, this unfolds from the purposeful contrasts of a Prelude and Aria, via a propulsive Toccata and alluringly reticent Aria, to a finale that bracingly combines elements of fantasy and fugue through to a visceral climax and lengthy postlude which recalls earlier themes from an affecting remove. The outcome is a triumph of formal integration and expressive power.
It is a measure of Weinberg’s current profile that six recordings of this piece have appeared over the past year, with Gidon Kremer and his colleagues preferable to the incisive if overly self-contained version on Hänssler. (Reissue of an electrifying 1995 Russian account, once on Olympia, would be welcome.) Elsewhere, Kremer and Yulianna Avdeeva equal Linus Roth and José Gallardo for impetus though exceed them for insight. Highly immediate sound and decent notes round out a valuable addition to Weinberg’s discography in his centenary year. Richard Whitehouse Three Pieces, Violin Sonata No 6 – selected comparison: Roth, Gallardo (9/13) (CHAL) CC72567 Piano Trio – selected comparison: Sitkovetsky, Geringas, Nemtsov (6/06) (HANS) CD98 491
‘Time & Eternity’ JS Bach Chorales Fišer Crux Hartmann Concerto funebre Machaut Messe de Nostre Dame – Kyrie Martin Polyptyque Zorn Kol Nidre Patricia Kopatchinskaja vn Camerata Bern Alpha F ALPHA545 (77’ • DDD)
The disembodied head of Patricia Kopatchinskaja rests next to a violin, its back splintered, its neck missing. Inside the booklet, Kopatchinskaja gazes at the camera, her hands resting on a skull. Classic Pat Kop. The Moldovan-born violinist has a taste for the quirky and this extends – happily – to her programming, which is restless and adventurous. I may not always have loved her interpretations, but applaud the risk-taking behind her playing, the search for something out of the ordinary. Kopatchinskaja is no ordinary violinist.
She loves unusual juxtapositions, such as the wild swings from contemporary to pre-Baroque in ‘Take Two’ (12/15) and her splitting up Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet with Dowland, Gesualdo and Kurtág. We get more juxtapositions here on ‘Time & Eternity’, performed with Camerata Bern, of which Kopatchinskaja is artistic director. The disc features Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Concerto funebre, composed in response to the Nazi terror in Germany, along with Frank Martin’s Polyptyque, inspired by six panels of the Passion of Christ painted by Duccio di Buoninsegna. Although the Hartmann is played straight through, Kopatchinskaja breaks up Polyptyque with transcriptions for string orchestra of Bach chorales, which land on the ear like the balm of consolation after the pain and emotion depicted in Martin’s music.
The programme opens with the reciting of the Jewish Kol Nidrei, leading into John Zorn’s prayer of the same title. Prayers are also offered by priests of the Polish Catholic and Russian Orthodox traditions, while the Jewish song ‘Eliyahu Hanavi’, which Hartmann quotes in his concerto, is sung by a Polish folk singer, along with the popular German song ‘Unsterbliche Opfer’ (Immortal Victims), also quoted in the Hartmann, followed by an unsettling, improvised War Cadenza.
This is very much a concept album and, as such, it needs to be listened to as programmed. Kopatchinskaja’s playing is daring in her use of extreme dynamics, sometimes down to a spidery whisper. She is never afraid to produce a harsh, uningratiating sound – the Concerto funebre is properly aggressive at times – but there is sweetness too, especially from Camerata Bern in those Bach chorales. The excellent booklet features texts and colour images of the Buoninsegna panels. Not easy listening, but strongly recommended. Mark Pullinger
6 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2020