Territorial Songs features 2 World Premiere Recordings on this album of works for recorder composed by Sunleif Rasmussen. The music is performed by Michala Petri on Recorder with the Esbjerg Ensemble, Danish National Vocal Ensemble (DR Vokalensemblet) directed by Stephen Layton, Lapland Chamber Orchestra conducted by Clemens Schuldt, and the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra (Aalborg Symfoniorkester) conducted by Henrik Vagn Christensen.
Since his emergence on the musical scene in 2002 when his Symphony No. 1, “Oceanic Days” was the winner of The Nordic Council Music Prize, Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen has continued to make a name for himself and his island home on the world music scene. Among his many striking compositions is a growing corpus of works featuring the recorder. Beginning with his expansive concerto for recorders and large orchestra, Territorial Songs (2008-09), Rasmussen sought to expand the instrument’s persona and possibilities, freeing it from its historic associations with the music of the Renaissance and Baroque, pushing it into new territories. In this mission, the composer has been exceptionally fortunate to have as muse and musical partner one of the greatest recorder players ever, Michala Petri.
The current project represents an overview of works composed from 2009 to 2020. All are scores featuring the recorder: as concerto soloist with a symphony orchestra, (Territorial Songs), a string ensemble (Winter Echoes), an obbligato in a complex choral setting (“I”), chamber music (Flow), and unaccompanied (Sorrow and Joy Fantasy), each work a milestone in Rasmussen’s musical development.
As always, Michala Petri brings each score to life with consummate artistry and is perfectly matched by each of the ensembles performing with her. The entire package is recorded and mastered in Stereo DXD.
Michala Petri – Recorder
Danish National Vocal Ensemble (DR Vokalensemblet) directed by Stephen Layton
Lapland Chamber Orchestra conducted by Clemens Schuldt
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra (Aalborg Symfoniorkester) conducted by Henrik Vagn Christensen
Total time: 01:12:25
|Original Recording Format||
|Original Recording Format|
Various (see booklet) in Denmark and Lapland
|Release Date||April 8, 2021|
Sunleif Rasmussen – the only composer ever born on the Faroe Islands – who celebrated his 60th birthday on March 19, 2020 and is highly regarded in Scandinavia as a composer, says: “How can you compose for the recorder in an original and challenging manner in the 21st century?” Symphonic musician enjoys having asked. Especially when they must please the grande dame of the instrument, with whom one is also close friends. Funny making noises with spitting, hopping, and trampling? Everyone can now! Style copy? Others have already done it. Minimal music with echoes of folk, pop, and jazz?
Many of the above elements can already be found in the Territorial Songs, the concerto for recorder and symphony orchestra, which was taken over from an older recording for the birthday anthology. The simultaneous singing and playing, the rhythmic drive – which comes from the richly occupied percussion group here – the sometimes intricate polyrhythmics and the coherence of the sequences are already present in the core and summarize the elements already heard before at the end of the album.
All works are highly demanding in terms of flaut, primarily because Rasmussen fully uses the two octaves + third of the individual representatives chromatically, leaves little time for the changes, notes down fast exposed legato figures without much consideration for favorable fingering connections, the highest demands on precision as any sloppiness would be immediately audible. In addition, there are extremely fast double-reed passages and glissandos, which should still sound poetic and never noisy. To improvise something that sounds similar, which in many more avant-garde works may at most strike the composer, does not work at all in Rasmussen’s compositions.
Of course, these challenges are in good hands with Michala Petri, it is difficult to imagine more beautiful, more elegant recorder playing. Her partners are also on the matter with the same virtuosity, concentration and attention and each piece manages to convey both the breakneck and the poetic message. Extra praise goes to the Danish National Vocal Ensemble for the fantastic intonation security and the dynamically wide-ranging sound in Jeg.
Conclusion: If you are looking for something contemporary – in which processes can still be experienced – to be touched by it, you should grab it. It is a must buy for recorder players who want to know how the trickiest figures without allure, with elegance and optimal sound beauty must be played on different instruments or who are looking for a suitable work for a university degree and chamber music program. Also, for ambitious vocal ensembles. Clear recommendation!
Our Recordings dedicates an entire album to Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen, born in 1961. He studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen and at the IRCAM in Paris.
Among the 5 works, the piece I, set for recorder and chamber choir, is particularly striking. No less appealing is Winter Echoes, for recorder and strings which come together in an incantatory dance. The other works show diverse influences, including those of jazz, spectral music, which the composer learned about in Paris, and folk song, but much is also distinguished by a distinctive rhythmic quality.
Most importantly, Rasmussen’s music, at least the music heard here, is highly original and imaginative. It defies pigeonholing. And it benefits from first-rate interpretations on this DXD recording.
Territorial Songs is the title of both a new release from Our Recordings and its final work, a concerto for recorder and orchestra by the Faroese (b. Sandoy, 1961) composer Sunleif Rasmussen. The disc comprises music “composed for/played by” the superb Danish recorder virtuoso Michala Petri.
In his commentary (included with the album), Rasmussen recalls how, while working on Territorial Songs, “I met with Michala and she introduced me to various sound possibilities and techniques one could use on a recorder, including playing and singing at the same time. This opened up a totally new view on the instrument for me.” Rasmussen also acknowledges: “I think in specific terms about which type of recorder I will choose to accomplish my musical goals. The bass-recorder is a very mysterious sounding instrument; the tenor is lyrical; the alto is powerful and sometimes melancholic; the soprano and sopranino are powerful, glittering instruments, but can also be lyrical.” Both of these techniques play a major role in the featured works on “Territorial Songs.” But there are many other elements as well.
Sunleif Rasmussen is a composer whose music is deeply informed by his heritage, manifested by such elements as the celebration of the mysteries, power, and beauties of nature, as well as Faroese folk music and legend. Rasmussen is also a quite eclectic composer, someone who draws upon a wide range of international musical influences, including jazz, electroacoustic music, and serialism. Rasmussen also demonstrates the magical ability to conjure an image of the solitary voice in the wilderness, very much in the spirit of another Northern European composer, Sibelius. Each of the works on “Territorial Songs” has a keen, individual profile, and are all meticulously and effectively constructed.
Rasmussen’s Flow (2012), for recorder and string trio, was conceived as “a companion piece” to the Mozart Flute Quartet, K. 285. Rasmussen views that genre, and Mozart, through the prism of a modern aesthetic. There is also a wonderfully puckish sense of humor in the fleet outer movements. In his liner notes, Joshua Creek suggests (aptly, I think) an affinity between Flow and Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. Flow is in three movements. The broad second movement Tranquillo is both the structural and emotional center of the work. Here, the music is introspective and quite affecting. In the Tranquillo, Rasmussen makes striking use of the playing and singing recorder technique.
“I” (2011) is Rasmussen’s setting for recorder and chamber choir of Inger Christensen’s “confessional response to Wallace Stevens’ ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’.” “I” is a marvelous realization of the poet’s exploration of the tension between multiplicity and unity. The 9-minute work features rich and complex choral writing, in conjunction with a haunting and soulful obbligato recorder (the piece ends with a striking example of Rasmussen’s “voice in the wilderness”). Sorrow and Joy Fantasy (Sorrig og Glaede Fantasi) (2011), for solo recorder, is in theme and variations form. The principal melody is a hymn by the 17th century clergyman and poet Thomas Kingo. There are 12 variations in all that become ever more virtuoso in nature. Rasmussen maintains the character of the hymn throughout. As such, this work is the most harmonically traditional among the 5 and might serve as a good starting point for those who approach contemporary music with some trepidation.
Winter Echoes, Hommage à Aexel Borup-Jørgensen (2014), a tribute to the contemporary Danish composer, is an 11-minute work comprising three sections, played without pause. Winter Echoes charts a journey from darkness to light, reflected both in the writing for the 13 solo strings, and the progression of the featured recorders (bass, tenor, alto, sopranino). Once again at work’s close, the recorder emerges a solitary presence. The concerto for recorder and orchestra, Territorial Songs (2009), is in five movements. The title refers to birdsongs and their dual functions: “to defend a territory and to attract a male.” The suggestion of birdsongs is prevalent throughout. The notion of staking out territory is further manifested by episodes in which sections of the orchestra play independent of the conductor’s direction. The tolling of bells also plays an important role. Once again, Rasmussen uses different kinds of recorders, and gives Petri the opportunity to showcase her playing/singing technique. The writing for the recorder includes several virtuoso episodes.
Michala Petri is a brilliant advocate for Rasmussen’s musical creations. Petri’s scintillating technique, remarkable breath control, gorgeous phrasing, and kaleidoscope of instrumental colors are stunning in their cumulative impact. All the collaborating musicians on the various recordings are first-rate as well. Indeed, each performance is notable for an impressive sense of partnership between Petri and the ensembles. All the recordings are excellent, providing a realistic concert perspective, and admirable balance between Petri and the other musicians. In addition to Rasmussen’s commentary and Cheek’s liner notes, the booklet includes Susanna Nied’s English translation of the Christensen poem set in “I” (but not the original text), and artist bios. How wonderful it is to hear imaginative, expressive, and superbly constructed new music performed with such devotion and flair. I recommend this album with the greatest enthusiasm and look forward to more encounters with the music of Sunleif Rasmussen.
5 stars: Michala Petri’s brilliant performances of recorder works by Sunleif Rasmussen
Slidel Classical Reviews
‘Territorial Songs’, a new album of works for recorder by Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen, may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Presenting as it does the wonders of contemporary practice, performed with jaw-dropping skill by Michala Petri, pushing the envelope to extend a range of tones and approaches.
The collection kicks-off with ‘Flow’ for recorder and string trio and featuring the Esbjerg Ensemble. Its strikingly fresh and contemporary sound seems akin to a reformed Baroque, short sharp string stokes complementing the breathiness of Petri’s technique. The central ‘Tranquillo’, however, affords a gentler unison between the solo and the strings, accompanied by a pitter-patter of pizzicato. The closing ‘Rondeau’ is brighter and rhythmic, Keystone Cops chasing tails around a carousel.
‘I’ is a setting of a poem by Inger Christensen in which recorder and chamber choir are at times astonishingly similar in tone. The vocalization (Stephen Layton leading the Danish National Vocal Ensemble) is ethereal yet strident, mixing male and female voices alongside the subtle counterpoint of the Petri’s performance which transcends from bass to soprano. A highlight of the album.
‘Winter Echoes’ (with Clemens Schuldt conducting the Lapland Chamber Orchestra) appears surprisingly cinematic. A turn away from the Early Music resonances of previous offerings. Not misplaced in a psychological thriller – raw non-vibrato and cooler, spectral, tones emanating from various members of the recorder family. Extraordinary playing, with skillfully controlled portamento.
The titular concerto is navigated by Henrik Vagn Christensen and the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra. It opens with a clang of bells and a swarm of strings. Again, expanding tonal ranges, the soprano recorder is performed with the ‘tooting’ aspect of a penny whistle. The movements bleed into the other, timbres shifting, alongside shining brass and percussive rain, transmuting to something darker.
In the third movement, ‘Espressivo’, low marimbas are disrupted by the trumpet blasts. The recorder, now pan-like, is accompanied by drone-like strings, high and searing. Conversely, ‘Tranquillo’ surrenders the dissonant effect of rock-band feedback in a fading carrion-call itself dying. Joshua Cheek describes this as an “extended, lyrical episode featuring Rasmussen’s first usage of the recorder player simultaneously singing and playing in what functions as a sort of “anti-cadenza”.
Lastly, celestially, as if somewhere in between Holst and John Williams, yet postmodern and jarring, the final movement leaves nothing settled. Instead, still searching for something new. It is a remarkable album, to place its listener upon a cosmic route.
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