Hillborg Clarinet Concerto; Violin Concerto
Anders Hillborg (b1954) first made his mark on the wider international stage with the striking orchestral Clang & Fury (1985-89), available from Phono Suecia in a programme also featuring the raw, raucous Lamento for clarinet and strings (1982). Hillborg’s 1998 Clarinet Concerto, as its subtitle, Peacock Tales, suggests, is not so single-minded expressively; indeed, it covers a wide range of moods and styles, from the diatonic (one surreal, weighty chord just after 18 minutes and a disturbingly faux-minimalist passage that succeeds it) to the freely atonal. Hillborg wrote the Concerto for the flamboyant Martin Fröst (who has recorded other Hillborg works for BIS), whose penchant for theatrical performance has resulted in two radically different versions of the piece existing: the orchestral version recorded here and a shortened ‘Millennium’ version with tape accompaniment.
Much revised, the full version must now be considered definitive, though the conductor’s scream written for Leif Segerstam – who directed the première – is absent, being ‘reserved’ exclusively for Segerstam: even Salonen, a longstanding friend of Hillborg’s, cannot indulge. (Hopefully the composer will form a trust to meet in due time and appoint a successor of suitably eccentric character and physical stature who will be permitted to scream.)
Humour, then, is not wholly absent from his music; in the Violin Concerto, listen to the high jinks that start just after 5'15". However, the laughs are never mere gimmicks, but are subsumed into the expressive whole so that, a few minutes later, the same music has metamorphosed into something altogether darker, even sinister. Hillborg’s style is capable of real depth, as evidenced by the heartfelt threnody that takes up much of this fine concerto’s third quarter before it returns to the madcap perpetuum mobile of the opening span.
The centrepiece is perhaps Hillborg’s most-played work, Liquid Marble (1994; readers may remember its British première at the Proms the evening after the death was announced of Diana, Princess of Wales). It’s a tumultuous, volcanic work of considerable compositional and orchestral virtuosity; it is played marvellously well here, as are both concertos, with the dedicatees of each in excellent form, perfectly recorded. Recommended, if not for the faint-hearted.