Friday, 24 June 2016

BIS brings recordings of violin concertos by Henrik Hellstenius and Ørjan Matre, two very fine Norwegian composers who have both developed their own distinctive ways of creating works that are full of the finest textures, harmonies and colours and at times much emotional impact

A new release from BIS Records features violin concertos by two Norwegian composers, Henrik Hellstenius and Ørjan Matre performed by violinist Peter Herresthal with the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rolf Gupta

BIS 2152

Henrik Hellstenius (b.1963) studied musicology at the University of Oslo and later composition with Lasse Thoresen at the Norwegian State Academy in Oslo. He later went on to study with Gérard Grisey at the Conservatoire Superieure in Paris as well as computer-supported composition at IRCAM in Paris.

Hellstenius´ output encompasses a large range of works: chamber music, orchestral works, opera, electroacoustic music and music for theatre, film and ballet. His music is frequently performed in concerts and festivals around Europe. His compositions explore sound, rhythm, and movement yet with an emotional force. He is professor of composition at the Norwegian State Academy of Music in Oslo.

Ørjan Matre (b.1979) was born in Bergen and studied composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music with Bjørn Kruse, Lasse Thoresen, Olav Anton Thommessen and Henrik Hellstenius. He has become a distinct voice in Norwegian music, receiving many commissions from leading performers, ensembles and orchestras. The recent years have included premieres at Ultima Festival, Warsaw Autumn, Sound Scotland, Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik and Darmstadt Ferienkurse.

He has written works for a variety of ensembles, from chamber music to full symphony orchestra. For all his use of new techniques one can still hear elements of tradition in Matre’s music.

This new release opens with an orchestral work by Henrik Hellstenius, his Like Objects in a Dark Room for orchestra (2007, rev. 2014). The composer writes that ‘I had this image of composing sound objects that really have the presence of physical objects…my image was a merry-go-round, with the different objects circling around at different speeds.’

The work opens tentatively with snare drums taps against a hushed orchestral idea. Soon there are sudden little outbursts as the drum taps continue, strings bring scurrying phrases with brass interventions. A shunting sound appears before a piano is heard in a fast moving, short lived motif. The music bubbles up in certain passages, Hellstenius finding surprises at every turn. There are more percussion sounds added to the side drum before the brass rise up. There are a myriad of bubbling orchestral ideas that emerge before the shunting sounds are heard more clearly. The music moves ahead through passages of wild images in the orchestra before falling to a quieter passage with a side drum rhythm in the coda.

Hellstenius’ In Memoriam (Violin Concerto No. 2) for violin solo, string orchestra and percussion (2012, rev. 2013) is dedicated to his father and arose out of a close creative relationship with violinist, Peter Herresthal the soloist on this disc. Reflecting his father’s Alzheimer’s disease, the composer writes ‘the way the world blurs and becomes less present…is a kind of model for the piece…and, of course, there is a lament from my side…’

Strings open high up with astringent little phrases before soloist Peter Herresthal joins to continue the phrases. Hellstenius brings some remarkable, delicate little phrases out of which dissonant chords appear. There are hushed, deep timpani rolls as the soloist develops the music along with the strings of the orchestra in some beautifully formed delicate harmonies. This soloist brings a tremendous clarity to the fine textures with percussion adding colour and texture. Soon there is a remarkable section for soloist, with fast staccato notes over descending percussion that leads forward quickly in a sparkling passage. Later there is a sturdy orchestral theme, stepping forward over which the soloist brings a faster, anxious line. There is some spectacularly fine playing from soloist here, finding every little detail, colour and texture with the orchestra and percussion dovetailing wonderfully. There are some lovely harmonies as the theme is developed, becoming ever more passionate as well as moments of reflection as the soloist slowly works out ideas over a hushed orchestra.

There are lovely colours that appear out of the orchestral texture as the soloist slowly moves forward developing the theme through some terrific passages. There is a thunderously dramatic section for orchestra that gives way to a haunting violin line over a deep mournful orchestral layer. Bells chime in the hush as the soloist brings an exquisite passage before the music is gently and delicately developed over a very spare hushed background. Here the composer has created a quite haunting atmosphere as the soloist weaves ahead with the orchestra, laden with heavy emotion and becoming increasingly anxious. The music becomes laden with weight and emotion in the orchestra as the soloist brings an anguished, astringent solo line before sailing up to the heights over the slightest orchestral accompaniment to find the hushed coda.

Ørjan Matre has also worked closely with Peter Herresthal whilst writing his Violin Concerto (version for solo violin and orchestra) (2014).

In two movements, the orchestra launches straight into a forward moving, vibrant opening of Movement I. The soloist soon joins to bring a slower, calmer, longer line in a lovely theme that is overlaid by gentle orchestral textures and colours. Soon the orchestra brings a darker, more intense idea with deep timpani strokes, percussion adding much texture and colour, out of which the soloist brings a rather melancholy little theme that is developed with some really fine harmonies over an exquisitely textured orchestral backdrop. Matre creates moments of great luminosity contrasted with fuller orchestral passages. The soloist develops some lovely phrases over a delicate orchestral accompaniment before a rhythmic theme arrives but soon the music slows to its former tempo. There are richer orchestral phrases over which an oboe appears before the soloist enters to move ahead through more fine passages of luminescent orchestral textures over which the soloist weaves a lovely line.

Eventually there is a faster, more dramatic section for soloist and orchestra pointed up by drums with some very fine fast moving phrases from the soloist. The orchestra rises in a passage of greater drama, bringing some very individual orchestral sonorities and colours before the soloist enters again, high up on a sustained note as delicate orchestral textures are heard with hushed timpani rolls. Slowly the music works towards a hushed, atmospheric coda, full of the most lovely textures.

The soloist and orchestra bring transparent textures as Movement II opens, soon gaining in tempo as the theme is developed with an underlying rhythmic motif slowly becoming more apparent. The music increases in drama before the soloist weaves his line through a more intense orchestral accompaniment. The way that this soloist weaves in and out of the orchestral texture is really quite wonderful. Later there is a slower, more relaxed section with the soloist developing fast, delicate phrases, through a faster and more urgent passage with a fine development of orchestral colours and textures before quietening in the coda.

The disc concludes with an orchestral work by Matre, his PreSage for orchestra (2013, rev. 2015). It was written as an orchestral opening piece for a concert by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra that featured Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and uses an idea from that work as a basis for the new piece.

It opens quietly and slowly with gossamer textures, slowly developing the most lovely delicate, shimmering textures and soon rising through the most finely orchestrated passages, full of fine details. It finds a forward pulse through which orchestral ideas bubble up. Matre’s use of the orchestra is terrific, subtly conjuring the most lovely phrases. Drums join as the music gains in drama and intensity through passages of dynamic power with varied instrumental ideas that bring the feel of a concerto for orchestra with a myriad of orchestral ideas before the orchestra subsides into a less dramatic vein. The music still finds moments of more drama before falling to a hushed coda, ending on a drum tap.

Here are two very fine composers who have both developed their own distinctive ways of creating works that are full of the finest textures, harmonies and colours and at times much emotional impact. These are works that bring fresh rewards with repeated listening. 

The performances are first rate and the SACD recordings from the Stavanger Concert Hall, Norway are up to BIS’ finest standards. There are excellent booklet notes.

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