SØREMSEN La Notte
Bent Sørensen has been on the Nordic connoisseur’s radar for nearly 30 years now, and although a fair amount of his music is now on CD, there is a lot of catching up to do. So here are three works from the 1990s, all including piano, all rewarding examples of the imagination and craft that have helped make his name.
From its title and keening opening bars, Sieben Sehnsüchte (‘Seven Nostalgias’) seems set to be a lament looking east towards the post-Romantic Baltic minimalist line (the likes of Pe¯teris Vasks). But it soon shows a tougher streak, more wary of emotional blackmail, and all the better for that. The various whistlings, glissandos and inside-the-piano work suggest a game of mutual seduction (both physical and spiritual) between the two instruments. It is almost a disappointment when the piano abandons extended techniques for ‘normal’ roulades and chords. But in fact the seven pieces are beautifully varied in colour and pacing, and therefore wholly absorbing.
The Masque of the Red Death shows what Sørensen can do with a solo piano. He takes Poe’s tale not for its surface description of the red-masked plague entering a masquerade but as a symbol of loss of energy in any organism or system. Therefore, as Jens Brincker’s helpful essay points out, the music’s progress is not straightforwardly linear (as one might anticipate from the fidgety high-register opening) but undercut quite early on by symptoms of decay. The Ligeti of the piano Etudes would surely not have disowned a piece of this kind.
Like The Masque, the piano concerto La notte starts with tinkling high registers and lets the ear acclimatise to each new texture (clearly this is a Nørgård pupil at work). The way the first movement gradually accumulates momentum, always with strength in reserve, is truly impressive, so that, for instance, a scherzo phase with nervous repeated-note exchanges (not the brain-dead American-minimalist kind) arrives almost behind our backs. No less intriguing is the shimmery, hovering second movement that balances the 24-minute structure. And if the sudden ending is a surprise, it is also an invitation to explore Sørensen’s second piano concerto (La mattina, to complement La notte).
In all three pieces I can imagine greater variety of pianistic colour and attack. Nevertheless, the performances are clearly admirably prepared, and recording quality and documentation are excellent.