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Allgen Solo Violin Sonata (1989)

Joar Skorpen

nosagcd 3115

An unlikely recording. The composer was a pious recluse, who tragically died in a fire where the flames also consumed many of his scores. The performer moonlights as a train and bus driver. Self-taught Allgen took on the middle name of Loyola when he converted to Catholicism, then lived practically eremitically. The devotional dimension to his works, which are mainly for strings, makes them very long. That has been the main impediment to their frequent performance. In Skorpen, Allgen has found a champion; though the interview contained in the notes does not elaborate what constitutes Allgen’s ‘quality.’

So this two CD set is of Allgen’s last surviving work, a single unaccompanied violin sonata that lasts 100 minutes. The first movement is haunting, the second meditative, the third interrogatory. One fancies an affinity to the Sibelius-like response to Scandinavian nature. A short DVD with rehearsal footage completes the set.

The very long first movement makes extensive use of soaring motifs, sustained notes in the top part of the register. It is this part that makes most explicit the search for transcendence Skorpen plays with excellent intonation. The slow movement has far greater use of inner parts, in the third, we soon hear the theme, late Beethoven, which is not so much varied as explored. Will we ever hear the theme in its entirety? You will have to buy the disc to find out.

Almost all composers throughout history have had to adapt their creativity to the demands of the market, or of their job. Interestingly, Beethoven was one of the few who did not, protected as he was by powerful aristocratic patrons, and therefore able to explore and innovate his musical language. Unsurprisingly what little fame he has is posthumous. Allgen achieved the same effect by repudiating the public altogether. Skorpen plays of course with great commitment to his cause.

This work is completely sui generis. With the exception of the last movement, with its diatonic hook, it was far from easy to listen to. Nevertheless, it is an excellent example of the constant invention and re-invention characteristic of modern Scandinavian music, and clearly deserves a wider audience.

One final puzzling point. There is a Bis recording of what seems to be the same work, but it is actually another hour longer TWO hours and forty minutes. Answers on a postcard to…..

Ying Chang