Walden is a four-movement wind quintet from 1978, rescored in 1995 to include bass clarinet and alto saxophone rather than flute and horn. The connection with Thoreau’s famous book about his back-to-nature experiences at Walden Pond is at the level of recycling and transparency, and the piece will perhaps speak most persuasively to those already familiar with the Danish brand of ‘new simplicity’ inaugurated in the late 1960s (Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen et al). In fact it’s when the music bares its teeth in the third of four movements that the most impressive statements emerge. What follows is merely quizzical, and to me faintly disappointing.
Composed in 2009, Wald (German for ‘wood’ or ‘forest’) is conceived as variations on the opening of Walden for 15-piece ensemble, featuring ‘alternative’ timbres such as bass flute, cor anglais and bass trumpet. Here, despite clear traces of the new simplicity aesthetic, there is more sense of mystery, in places even of threat, and the whole experience is more emotionally and evocatively engaging. Anyone who knows Abrahamsen’s Schnee from his previous Winter & Winter disc (8/10) will realise that his music makes few concessions to euphony, but also that it has tremendous strength in reserve and repays efforts to probe beneath its surface.
A musique concrète prelude, interlude and postlude sweetens the pill of the two composed works. These woodland sounds, captured at different points in the day, are atmospheric enough, but it’s hard to relate them to Abrahamsen’s own music. Indeed, they risk narrowing the suggestive power of the music itself to a mere New Age ecological manifesto. Performances and recording are certainly first-rate. For the composer’s booklet-notes, however, we are directed to the label’s website, which seems a rather pointless economy. I for one would much rather have a booklet in hand than bring a computer into my listening space.