Lasse Thoresen AbUno; Thus; Yr; Qudrat
Cikada Ensemble; Newband; Stig Nilsson, violin;
Som bølger på ett hav
Christian Eggen, Sigmund Thorp, conductors,
AbUno opens the first of these two discs with a series of spectrally-inflected chords anchored to a single clarinet note. This gives way to a low, Grisey-like double bass drone, an orchestral flurry, and then the clarinet note transfers to high violins and a new sequence of chords begins to hang from it like mist. In the way that they expand, slowly involving the full orchestra, the solo clarinet note and the sequence of chords it gives rise to is a typical opening gesture, developed in the move to a new note and a new harmonic spectrum from the double bass, and an altered return to the original note and harmonic spectrum.
This all speaks of a music strongly influenced by the French spectral school in its material preoccupations and harmonic and orchestral technique, yet governed by a less enigmatic approach to form and development. Thoresen has indeed been so influenced, citing the discovery of Tristan Murail's music in 1984 as a key moment in his musical life.
The surprise comes at the work's climax, just short of halfway through, as thunderous wind and percussion are interrupted a quartet of solo strings sounding for all the world like Schubert. If it is a quotation it is only fleeting and is rapidly absorbed back into the spectral texture. Was this borrowed moment the source for the harmonic spectra that govern the rest of the work, as Grisey's trombone E governs Les espaces acoustiques?
Perhaps AbUno is not a fair place to begin, as it is one of the more obviously derivative pieces on these two discs. The composer is not just a Grisey and Murail clone, being influenced also by Norwegian folk music and his Bahá'i faith. From the former, Thoresen draws on the observation that certain modes of Norwegian folk music are constructed from the 8th to 13th partials of the harmonic spectrum, giving a seven-note scale with no semitones but one perfect fifth. Like Debussy's discovery of the modes of Javanese gamelan, this allows Thoresen to make an easy connection between an indigenous style and a modern technique. The violin solo, Yr, is the key example of this side of Thoresen's work. It's a terrific piece, clearly indebted to Norwegian fiddle music, but never once sounding twee or corny.
Thoresen's Bahá'i faith is perhaps most apparent on my favourite work on these two discs, Thus, written for ensemble and the instruments of Harry Partch's Newband. There have been plenty of bad pieces written for Newband (Partch's own excluded), but this isn't one of them. Bahá'i asks that its followers dive deep into experiences in order understand them spiritually and symbolically; one of the lessons Thoresen has drawn from spectral music is a way of structuring music such that it invites a deeper immersion in the detail of a sound's construction. In the mysterious, rattling, clanging percussion of Thus I think he finds an ideal expression of this. This disc is, therefore, highly recommended. The four pieces together can sound a little eclectic, but each stands well on its own.
The one-hour extravaganza Som bølger på ett hav (As the waves of the sea) that makes up the other disc is a little more puzzling, however. Predominantly written for large orchestra, choir, soloists and electronics, it also includes parts for several 'wandering groups' – jazz band, renaissance ensemble, folk music ensemble, military band and jesters. It's a bit of a Musicircus affair, therefore, and presumably loses something of that spectacle in translation to disc. Quite a lot of it works well: the opening 'Opphav' section reveals a debt to Scelsi that makes sense when one recalls that his own spiritual path led him to the development of a pre-spectral music, and the big orchestral swells recall Georg Friedrich Haas: but, as in AbUno, the music’s symphonic architecture sets it apart from its more abstruse reference points. As the piece progresses, the various wandering groups pass in and out of the soundscape, until they all collide, in a great climax of fanfares and what sound like fireworks.
This is a live recording, so the audience's laughter and applause at this point is captured, giving the impression that we are eavesdropping on a mysterious pageant of some kind. In the end, the piece subsides once more into the Scelsi-like waves from which it began. A curiosity, then, but one that is easy to recommend to interested ears.
See: Lasse Thoresen and musical insularity [Editor]