Cellist Jakob Kullberg’s immersion in the works of Per Nørgård has seen him enlist his trio colleagues for this assembly of scores for two and three strings. The line-up, heavy on Nørgård, throws a rather unforgiving spotlight on those composers who don’t approach their craft so rigorously.
Problems first. Yes, texture can push music forward as much as rhythm, harmony, shape, tension, stasis (paradoxically), etc. But every time an instrument seizes the top line in Kaija Saariaho’s Cloud Trio before diffusing into disintegrating shimmering or scraping, I am left bored and frustrated with the suspicion that the composer is too. And I smell a rat with the adoption of a wholly different voice for the trio’s second movement. In Henrik Hellstenius’s Rift, the cascades of downward scales are alluring but not fertile enough for the improvisation Hellstenius calls for. The piece winds up up chasing its tail, sounding a little like Saariaho.
Bent Sørensen’s Gondole sounds exactly like Bent Sørensen and that’s just fine; there is some exquisite playing from Trio Aristos in the elusive, smoke-like harmonies and half-hidden melody (one of Sørensen’s favourites) of ‘Gondola in Dreams’, and Kullberg’s falsetto singing is almost ghostly. Not a note is wasted; Sørensen’s counterpoint is delicate but full of hard work.
Conversely, Per Nørgård’s instruments don’t so much react to one another as emerge from each another. Strings is brilliantly plotted using the ‘old’ rules of contrast, tension and pure beauty. Tjampuan is just as tight, the principle of ‘emergence’ made explicit with a hocket technique. At times Nørgård appears to hint at the concurrent but differing metres used in the last movement of Strings, and the resulting frisson resounds wonderfully in the hands of this distinctly blended and highly musical trio. A totally bizarre booklet-note reinforces the music’s suggestion that the more rigorous the process, the more tangible its results.