Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us


The Natural World of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen

Six simple Danish Songs
Three Stages

Four Madrigals from the Natural World

Ars Nova Copenhagen, Paul Hillier

Dacapo: 6220583

For several decades I have been aware intermittently of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen and his music from the very earliest years of Musical Pointers. Paul Hillier dscovered him in the '90s and this new disc, which has taken three years between recording and release, is a worthy addition to his discography.

Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen Organ Music

Mirror III (1974)

Still. Leben (1999)

Countermove I-III (1999)

In triplum I-III (1999)

Der er så favrt i Jelling at hvile (2000)

Arkaisk procession (2002)

Spejlkabinet (2002)

Eva Feldbæk (organ)

Da Capo CD 8.224254

This bizarre and unique CD celebrates Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's 70th birthday. Born 1932, he is the most 'grotesquely humorous' of his inter-war generation of Danish composers. Through the decades he has advanced through Stravinsky, Bartók and Hindemith, to and beyond serialism, Stockhausen and Ligeti, and flirted with the "new simplicity", but always remained his own man. He avoids compartmentalising and his composing palette embraces influences of Baroque music, Pygmy music, jazz, plainchant, the sounds of everyday life and sheer noise; a 'master of the absurd'. He developed his own 'filter' or 'self-reflecting tonal grid'.

After the open-minded organist Eva Feldbæk took on one of the composer’s earlier works she challenged him to write new ones, and persuaded him to revive an old interest in composing for the organ. The consequence is an important oeuvre in the arcane world of truly innovative contemporary music for the organ, which tends to live in something of a separate ghetto (as indeed does, to a lesser extent, radical UK contemporary music now, in an age when accessibility is the watchword and everyone is encouraged to believe that they could become composers).

The result of Eva Feldbæk's enterprise has been the steady accumulation from Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's pen of experimental organ works that span a period of over 25 years: from Mirror III from 1974 to Archaic Procession and Cabinet of Mirrors from 2002. They mark a notable process of development in the work of a composer who has always set himself up in opposition to new dominant trends and gospels.

This CD traces his experiments from 1974-2002. His Mirrors (1974) run in extended accelerandi and ritardandi, layer on layer, each of the four movements confined to its own dynamic level. He tried to be 'simple' in Still & Leben; Countermove I-III & In triplum I-III (1999) but real simplicity eludes him and he could not avoid a plethora of polyrhythm, polychromaticism, diatonics and melody (the latter surfacing sparingly). He has used ‘iron blocks' for performing clusters and The Archaic Procession features octave clusters. He employed four extra 'stopping assistants’ to work outside and inside the organ's case for Cabinet of Mirrors (2002) - one of his pieces which has its roots in Bach’s Art of Fugue; they add glissandi from the reed stops to Bach's 'mirror fugues' from Die Kunst der Fuge.

Recommended to inquisitive general listeners, who enjoy hearing cathedral organs but would be unlikely to attend organ recitals. And if Gudmundsen-Holmgreen proves enjoyable to you as to me, despite his formidable name and the sometimes extreme dissonance of his music - whether you call it ugly is a matter of taste - read about my particular favourite amongst active organist-composers, Jean Guillou, who is famous in Paris but rarely heard of here across the Channel. Guillou pulled the organ towards the millennium by his own performing and recording, and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, with the aid of his devoted interpreter Eva Feldbaek, is dragging it into our new century.

To help raise awareness, it would be a valuable gesture to invite them both to give recitals on the excellent organ at Huddersfield's St Paul's Hall, which tends to stand silent throughout most of the annual Huddersfield Festivals of Contemporary Music.


© Peter Grahame Woolf