NØRGÅRD Whirl's World
It’s a mistake to consider Per Nørgård a dogmatic composer and this release proves it in style, placing some of his strictest system-based musical structures alongside wide-eyed film music as if to prove that both are built of the same clarity, sincerity and joie de vivre.
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.