Organ Music by Axel Borup-Jørgensen is another entry in the ongoing series of music by the late Danish composer from Our Recordings. The release reception took place in connection with a concert with 5 of the pieces from the album in Vor Frelsers Church in Copenhagen featuring organist Jens E. Christensen.
This album presents an overview of Borup-Jørgensen’s small but highly distinctive oeuvre for organ. Borup-Jørgensen’s unique – and surprisingly, numerous works for the “King of Instruments” set him apart from many of his contemporaries. In addition to writing highly individual solo works, six of the pieces recorded here call for additional musicians from Strophen (1962), an expressionistic setting of a text by Rainer Maria Rilke for voice and organ, to Portal for percussion and organ Opus 181 (2009), a work composed for concert in honor of his 85th birthday.
Joining organist Jens E. Christensen on this sonic journey is percussionist Mathias Reumert, mezzo-soprano Pia Rose Hansen, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, bass-baritone Jakob Bloch Jespersen, and Lars Sømod, second organist on organo per due Opus 133.1
Christensen plays the historic organ at Vor Frelsers Church, Copenhagen, a glorious Baroque instrument built by the Botzen Brothers 1698-1700. Even silent, the instrument is an imposing structure, with over 4,000 pipes, housed in an ornately decorated case sculpted by Christian Nerger, featuring a bust of King Christian V at the center.
The smallest fluctuations and nuances in Axel Borup-Jørgensen’s music can have the impact of an earthquake. It is a music born out of stillness. It is a quiet modernism, where the silences speak just as insistently as the few, but decisive, outbursts.
Jens E. Christensen – Organ
Mathias Reumert – Percussion
Pia Rose Hansen – Mezzo-Soprano
Mahan Esfahani – Harpsichord
Jakob Bloch Jespersen – Bass Baritone
Lars Sømod – Organ (second organist on organo per due Opus 133.1)
Total time: 01:14:54
Recorded in the DXD audio format (Digital eXtreme Defi nition), 352.8 kHz/32bit (Microphone main array: 3x DPA 4006TL. + 2 DPA4011TL for surround channels. Pyramix DAW system with Tango Controller. Monitored on B&W 802 Diamond speakers.
|Original Recording Format|
Vor Frelsers Kirke Copenhagen October 19-22 2015, November 10-11 2015 and January 19, 2016
|Release Date||May 6, 2021|
Readers possessed of particularly good memories may recall my favorable review of Axel Borup-Jørgensen’s piano music just two issues ago. This Danish composer had an unusually distinct compositional voice, one which might not appeal to every reader of this magazine, but would to many readers, as it did to this reviewer. These are not showy virtuosic works, but (as the booklet notes) emerge from stillness.
The album opens with Portal, scored for organ and percussion, wherein the listener is quickly immersed in thunder-evoking timpani rolls (the effect, however, is quite dissimilar to that produced by Berlioz in his Symphonie fantastique). The organ is used only in the piece to employ subtle dissonant chords in its tenor register, as the timpani dominates the proceedings throughout. For orgel IV features almost other-worldly sonorities in the organ, produced by sustained clusters of notes in the treble staff with pointillistic interjections by the feet and other hand of the organist. Around the five-minute mark, Borup-Jørgensen brings in some of the ascending non-tonal arpeggiated figures that I noted in several his piano works in my previous review. The organ is equally, if not more effective in this figuration.
Strophen adds an alto voice to the organ. The dark character of the voice is enhanced by the equally dark stops employed in the piece, and the work is the musicafication (don’t go looking this word up in your dictionary: it’s my coinage for the musical equivalent of personification) of depression. So, I wouldn’t listen to this if you need a good cheering up, but the piece will reveal its exquisite beauty to most listeners. Kalligrafier continues the mood but not the register of the preceding work, as it resumes an exploration of the upper notes in the organ’s wide range of pitches. As far as I can tell without access to a score, the piece eschews the pedals entirely, in fact. It forms an interesting conflation of pointillistic and sustained sonorities and ends in a whisper. Für Cembalo und Orgel deftly synthesizes harpsichord and organ sounds, something that I doubt that Max Reger, for instance, could have brought off, even if he’d wanted to. Borup- Jørgensen can get away with it because for him the organ is rarely the powerhouse instrument that it often is for other composers; it is instead a vehicle for colors, often pastel ones. Thus, this combination of harpsichord and organ, given its utterly distinctive sound, is a particular testimony to his gifts as a composer. It is my favorite work on the album.
Textures are unsurprisingly denser in the organo per due for two organists, which was written for Eva Feldbæk and her colleague Jens E. Christensen. The notes don’t specify if this work is intended to be played on a single instrument or on two. By Borup-Jørgensen’s standards, the piece becomes more dramatically turgid than does most of his subtle music. Trilogi adds a bass voice to the organ, or more accurately, alternates organ and bass, as the two never perform simultaneously. The organ plays a few dissonant chords, and the bass follows with a wandering more tonally focused line, and back and forth they go. The effect of the piece is an evocation of timelessness, and it is hauntingly beautiful. The text of this work is drawn from writings of Rilke and Nietzsche, and deal with transitions to darker times, reflections I have to say are particularly appropriate nowadays.
The Italian word misterioso graces the score at the beginning of for orgel XI and sums up the essence of the piece. This work utilizes a greater range of the organ than most heard herein, as the composer explores different registers in its various sections.
Closing the album is winter music, which once again adds percussion, and like the first work in the recital, opens with a roll in the timpani. This work is, however, 10 times the length of Portal, giving the composer much more time to develop his ideas, and here the organ also has a much more prominent role. The piece is full of sound and fury (at around the seven-minute mark, you’ll hear the greatest outburst of timpani you’ve ever heard in a piece of music), but unlike what Shakespeare has his character state in Macbeth, it does signify something, and something quite profound at that. As in Strophen, this is dark music, and will engender sober reflection on the part of the listener.
Listening to an entire album of music by Axel Borup-Jørgensen is quite an emotionally draining experience, although the experience lingers pleasantly in my memory, as I like Borup-Jørgensen’s organ music even better than I did his piano music. Aficionados of the new and unusual will find it as rewarding as I did, and to them, I recommend this album wholeheartedly.
Classical Modern Music Review
Those who like me revel in the cathedral organ and at the same time respond readily to high modernism in this context (for example in the organ music of Messiaen) will find the release of Axel Borup-Jorgensen’s Organ Music quite appealing, a sophisticated trip into an organic cosmos both mysterious and bracing.
Borup-Jorgensen’s attention to nuance and atmospheric presence, of silence into sound and vice-versa ensure that we do not miss extended passages of demonically difficult passagework. His is a music of the earth and sky, a spiritual reaching out to sonic worlds we do not often dwell in, an original cosmos of organicity.
The nine works on the album include three for organ alone, one for organ duo, one for cembalo and organ, two for organ and percussionist, one for alto and organ and one for bass and organ.
“Winter Music” for percussion and organ makes use of the cathedral space for some dramatically resonant drums against a searching organ. That one is the most dramatic but Jens E. Christensen’s careful attention to detail and sympathy for the Borup-Jorgensen universe ensure that we are immersed in a sonic wash of sound that is as extended in modern realms as it is unassuming.
This is not music to overwhelm the senses or shock. It is a very personal journey into Borup-Jorgensen’s exploration of sonic and textural possibilities latent in the modern cathedral organ.
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