More Eccentric Music from Ketil Hvoslef


CHAMBER WORKS Vol. 6 / HVOSPEF: Trombone Quartet / Sverre Riise, Petter Winroth, Audun Breen, Clare Farr, tb / Clarinet Quintet / Diego Lucchesi, cl; Ricardo Odriozola, Mara Haugen, vln; Ilze Klava, vla; John Ehde, cel / Hardingtrio / Hilde Harakdsen Sveen, sop; Håkon Asheim, hardanger fiddle; Einar Røttingen, pno / Trio for Thirteen / Kaia Rullestad Teigen, sop; Christina Jønsi, alto; Fredrik Schjerve, ten; Frida Andreassen Lereng, fl; Isabel Maria Velasco, ob; Aksel Hovar, cl; Håvard Løkting Larsen, bsn; Vladimir Ščigulinska, Oddhild Nyberg, vln; Eugenio Meneghel, vla; Carmen Bóveda, cel; Sigvald Fersum, perc; Ricardo Odriozola, cond / Lawo LWC 1180

Wacky Norwegian composer Ketil Hvoslef, whose music I have praised on this blog previously, returns here with Vol. 6 of his chamber music. Like the previous five volumes, the music herein is engaging despite its modern bent. Hvoslef has a knack for writing in odd rhythms and meters, leans towards modality even as he frequently shifts the tonality, yet always seems to be in a playful mood—sometimes almost maniacally so.

The Trombone Quartet is a perfect example of his work, being both playful and subtle. Indeed, much of this piece is comprised of soft chords, something quite out of the ordinary for Hvoslef. The composer, now in his 80th year, has often said that “he wishes for his listeners to lean forward on the edge of their chairs rather than sit back.” In the case of this work, leaning forward pays off, since so much of the music is quiet and the little humorous touches come and go rather subtly, such as the rapid rising eighth-note passages towards the end, almost sounding like some old geese honking near a pond.

By contrast, the Clarinet Quintet is a cheerful, chirpy piece in which Hvoslef uses the clarinet and strings in a very peculiar manner. The clarinet plays chirpy figures in the foreground while the viola adds little pizzicato notes here and there, the cello plays counterpoint in the low range while the two violins play very softly in the background. The humor here is a little more extrovert than in the trombone piece, but no less effective. Although written in one long, continuous movement, the work is internally divided into different section.

The Hardingtrio, divided into two sections, has more of a local flavor and less of an international one. Commissioned by Reidun Horvei, Knut Hamre and Geir Botnen in 1995, the premise was to create a work in which a wordless soprano line would weave its way in and out of a tune played in the style of a “Hardanger fiddle,” accompanied at times by piano, which is used in many places as a string instrument with different playing techniques. The two folk songs used here, for those readers who are Norwegian, are Håstadbespringar and Bjølleslåtten. The second was, to my ears, far less interesting than the first, as it gets stuck on one chord and doesn’t budge from it.

Ironically, the Trio for Thirteen is not only the most complex but also the most interesting piece on this album. Written in Rome in 1987, Hvoslef explains that the trio moniker is explained by the fact that it consists of three groups: four singers, four strings, and four winds in addition to a percussionist. The performance also includes the pre-recorded sound of barnyard animals, and the singers laugh at once point to provide a whimsical rhythmic counterpoint to the instruments. Interestingly, the singers generally perform as a quartet, almost sounding like The Pied Pipers. When they do sing solo, it is to perform sliding portamento lines up and down or to offset each other in wordless, rhythmic figures. The rhythmic displacements, odd chromatic passages and constantly shifting dynamics make this piece a real gem.

A bit of a split review, then. As a non-Norwegian, I really didn’t “get” or enjoy the Hardingtrio and moments here and there in the Trombone Quartet left me cold, but the rest of it was very fine indeed.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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