Elisabeth Klein Plays New Nordic Piano Works


PETERSEN: Nocturne in Daylight. A Tonal Phantasy. JACOBSEN: Mellomspil, Interlude. SØNSTEVOLD: Theme with 4 Variations. EDLUND: Orchids in the Embers (Tango for Piano). MALMLÖFF-FORSSLING: Viewpoints: East-West. LUND: Match. KUOSMA: From Spicula for Piano: Somnium; The Articulated; Voices from Beyond. STRØMHOLM: Winternight. RUDERS: 3 Letters From the Unknown Soldier. RASMUSSEN: Aria Grigia / Elisabeth Klein, pno / Danacord 854

For whatever reason, the Danish label Danacord, founded in the early 1980s, is suddenly on a spree of reissuing some of their LPs from that first decade for the first time on CD. Some of them aren’t terribly interesting, but this recital of then-modern music by pianist Elisabeth Klein, originally recorded in 1986, has here found its way onto silver disc.

With that being said, most of the composers presented here still remain enigmas in the West. The only name I recognized in the entire group was that of Poul Ruders, whose works are now being systematically recorded and released on the American label, Bridge Records. I wonder how many Westerners will have heard of Nils Holger Petersen (b. 1946), who has the honor of having two of his works played here, Per Christian Jacobsen (b. 1940), Maj Sønstevold (1917-1996), Mikael Edlund (b. 1950), Carin Malmlöff-Forssling (1916-2005), Gudrun Lund (b. 1930), Kauko Kuosma (1926-2013), Folke Strømholm (b. 1941) or Karl Aage Rasmussen (b. 1947)? Certainly not me. Thus I was in for a journey of discovery, and my notes below are what I found.

Petersen’s Nocturne in Daylight is a peppy piece  using brisk but irregular rhythms and a trick of having the pianist bang out occasional staccato figures consisting of a contrabass D-flat and an altissimo G-flat simultaneously several times in the course of this composition. It’s a bit of a gimmick, but somehow he makes it fit. Indeed, throughout this piece Petersen has the pianist fly over the keyboard in an almost constant display of musical extremes, with only a few passages in which the soloist plays his or her hands together in the middle of the keyboard as in a normal work. The problem is that Petersen starts to overdo it to the point where I wanted to take the damn record off or skip ahead to the next selection. I mean, cripes, there’s only so much you can exploit a gimmick without annoying the listener.

Jacobsen’s Mellomspil is a sort of pianistic waterfall, the music spilling musical droplets in a constant perpetual motion shower, interspersed with chord patterns. I found it rather cute. With Søstevold’s Theme with 4 Variations, we finally reach an atonal piece in which the constant harmonic shifts are complemented by a flowing if non-tuneful top line. He does not play around very much with rhythm or focus on rhythm as the centerpiece of his work, though one of the variations consists of single-line notes played in a somewhat syncopated manner.

Edlund’s Orchid in the Embers is a musical tale told by allusion, the music sounding fragmented though played in a forward-moving style. At times Edlund used purposely clumsy-sounding figures, moving around the keyboard like a cat that has somehow managed to produce sounds that cohere somewhat. It’s a strange piece, but I like strange as long as it’s creative, and this piece fits that description. By contrast, Malmlöff-Forssling’s Viewpoints sounds as if it were played on a prepared piano, or at the very least on the inside strings of the instrument, its delicate yet eerie melodic line complemented by glissando icicles of sound. Eventually even the tempo itself deteriorates into almost static figures, with the inner strings sometimes sounding like a harpsichord. I really loved this piece.

Nearly as interesting, to me, was Match by Gudrun Lund, a piece that deconstructs and then reconstructs itself before your very ears in a manner that’s difficult to describe, yet uses very simple elements that only become complex when they are juxtaposed and played together. Oddly, Kuosma’s From Spicula seems to pick up where Match left off, as if these were two works by the same composer written on roughly the same material, but as it develops, From Spicula turns more melodic and somewhat more tonal. As the music goes on, the tempo shifts and we get something akin to a bitonal boogie bass. Later on, Kuosma too has the pianist play the inside strings for a bit to create an atmosphere.

In fact, most of this latter part of the album reflects a similar aesthetic: spacey, somewhat cold-sounding music, evidently reflecting the chilly atmosphere of the Nordic countries. You either buy into this concept or you opt out. Petersen’s A Tonal Phantasy is one of the more whimsical pieces, evoking memories of several of the old-time composers.

Ruders’ relatively early (1967) 3 Letters from the Unknown Soldier begins with a staccato atonal piece of menacing chords and repeated upper-range figures, later with some ominous chords and finger trills thrown in. The second piece almost sounds like a variation on the first, while the third seems like a development of the second. In each succeeding piece, Ruders backs off a little more from the menacing sound of the first, the last of the three pieces being almost like a whimper rather than a statement of boldness. We end with Rasmussen’s Aria Grigia which sounds for all the world like a fourth piece in the Ruders group, though it does move into some very interesting variants.

So there you have it. Some very interesting pieces, some gimmicky ones, and one piece that really stinks. A mixed bag.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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