Norway’s only full-time professional chamber orchestra is heard to advantage on this disc largely devoted to 20th-century classics for strings. Framing the recital are breakthrough works from Webern and Lutosławski: the former’s Five Movements (1909) leavens its atonal abrasiveness with a raptly inward expression to which this account does full justice, while the latter’s Funeral Music (1958) combines serial elements with a homage to Bartók whose explosive climax is given context by the implacable accumulation then dispersal of activity on either side. At the centre is Kurtág’s Aus der Ferne III (1991), a compact yet potent distillation of motifs that typifies the ‘less is more’ ethos of his maturity, while before this comes Pärt’s Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977), whose decelerating cascades of string harmonies and hieratic bells recall a time when minimalism (‘holy’ or otherwise) was as uncompromising as any modernist aesthetic.
All of which might seem a tough act for Fredrik Högberg’s Hitting the First Base (2008) to measure up against but this concerto for double bass – with its fanciful section headings and breezily anarchic interplay between soloist, the redoubtable Dan Styffe, and strings – only marginally outstays its welcome through to the speculative sequence of cadenza-like gestures and nonchalant final pay-off. One of several fine Nordic string works might have widened the scope of the programme accordingly although, with its cleanly astringent sound and extensive annotations, this is a release whose perspective on the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra is both enlightening and impressive.