The Strange, Abstract Music of Hvoslef


CHAMBER WORKS No. V / HVOSLEF: Perpetuum Trompetuum.* Trio for Oboe, Viola & Percussion. Trio V.C.P. for Violin, Horn & Pianoforte / Gary Peterson, tpt; Steinar Hannevold, ob; Ilene Chanon, Fr-hn; Einar Røttingen, pno; Nathaniel Hjønnevåg, perc; Ricardo Odriozola, vln/vla / Kammerspill / Claudio Cox, Dmytro Kozar, vln; Johannes Skaansar, vla; Georgiy Imanov, cel; Peter Palotai, bs; *Einar Røttingen, Olav Egge Brandal, pno; Ola Berg Riser, Tomas Leivestad, perc; Frida Lereng, fl; Isabel Velasco, ob; Endre Lindtner Jørgensen, cl/bs-cl; Håvard Løkting Larsen, bsn/contra-bsn; Ricardo Odriozola, cond / Lawo LWC 1156

Ketil Hvoslef, who originally wanted to be a painter, became a composer almost by accident. I’ve come to really like and admire his compositional style, which is modern in harmony and theme treatment yet retains lyricism and a strong sense of form.

In this new release of his chamber music, we hear first recordings of works that again push the boundaries without resorting to such cheap (and oft-repeated) tricks as jagged shards of notes meant to convey drama and individuality. With so many young composers writing the exact same kind of stuff, how can it be individual? Take the opening Perpetuum Trompetuum, for instance: a slow, moody piece using a circular single-note pattern of eighth notes in the piano’s bass line while the trumpet and the piano’s left hand play interlocking and sometimes contrasting figures. Played at a relatively quiet dynamic level, this music creates a hypnotic spell on the listener.

And the same is true for his equally spacey, almost Twilight Zone-like trio for oboe, viola and percussion. Interestingly, Hvoslef uses the oboe primarily in its middle range, where its tone is fuller and more interesting, and which plays off the viola better. The latter instrument is basically used for long-held notes in the background while the oboe takes center stage until the middle, where the viola plays brief, edgy bowed chords in an almost percussive manner as the percussionist temporarily drops out. When the drums return, they emphasize the snare as much as the bass drum and add some backbeats to the mix. The rhythm then becomes somewhat exotic for a spell, after which the percussionist turns to woodblocks behind held notes by the viola and busy figures by the oboist.

As a matter of fact, each succeeding piece on this CD almost sounds like alternate movements of the same large suite, only with different instrumentation. Almost as soon as one piece finishes, here comes the next with scarcely a pause, and the trio for violin, horn and piano fits into a similar mold, only quicker in tempo and with greater interplay between the three instruments. There is clearly a relationship between Hvoslef’s sparse lines and abstract art. This, of course, removes the element of emotion from his music—in that respect, it is cool, not “hot”—but its construction has much more in common with J.S. Bach than with Beethoven or Schumann. Even the slow crescendo and increase in tempo in the latter trio has more of a structural than an emotional function—and yet it works, and is appealing.

In the last piece on the CD, Kammerspill, Hvoslef uses a fairly large ensemble—13 musicians, including a full string quartet, flute, oboe, clarinet, bass, piano and percussion—as if they were perhaps five musicians playing different instruments. The clarity of his lines and space in his music is thus retained despite the large size of the group, which is scarcely hinted at in listening. Getting into Hvoslef’s music requires your simply letting go of several preconceptions of what music is or should be and just enjoying the way in which he puts his abstract blocks of sound together.

Highly recommended!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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