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Symphonies Nos 2
Oslo Philharmonic, John Storgards
Here are two releases, each charting a sea change in the vision of a most singular artist. In three decades, four symphonies and two hours of music, we hear the Danish composer Per Nørgård
shift from Apollonian order to Dionysian excess.
Nørgård’s Second Symphony, written in 1970, breathes the calm air of Jean Sibelius. A lilting, seemingly infinite melodic thread is spun out unendingly, as if by the Fates themselves. The line flows throughout the orchestra, changing colour and character, from pastoral to threatening to mysterious, a calm forest stream that ripples and eddies, twists and turns.
In the late 1970s Nørgård came upon the obsessive, hallucinatory visions of outsider artist Adolf Wölfli, whose paintings, writings and musical thoughts were a decisive influence on the composer. Wölfli’s work doused Nørgård’s music with fuel, lending it danger, terror, heat and violence. The composer recently approvingly quoted a listener’s comment, that hearing his music is like taking “a walk with a fire-breathing dragon”. The Fourth Symphony accordingly shimmers with a strange beauty, lingering on horrifying and grotesque apparitions, flying into a heavy-footed dance of death. The Fifth is positively unhinged: overstuffed, overlong, full to the brim with climactic moments. There is a sense of natural forces at work in the Sixth Symphony, of surging seas, tectonic shifts and erupting volcanoes, and the prominence of the orchestra’s very lowest instruments enhances a nightmarish vision of nature on the brink of collapse.
These albums are the second and third releases in Dacapo Record’s ongoing cycle of Nørgård’s eight symphonies. The Oslo Philharmonic gives committed, accomplished performances of these difficult works, and are recorded with clarity and atmosphere, though these controlled, precise recordings do miss something of the snorting, snarling drama of Leif Segerstam’s raw and unhinged recordings with the Danish National Radio Symphony on Chandos.