More Chamber Music by Hvoslef

Hvoslef Chamber Works Vol 7

HVOSLEF: Trio for Sopano, Alto & Piano / Mari Galambos Grue, sop; Anne Daugstad, alto; Einar Røttingen, pno / String Quartet No. 3 / Ricardo Odriozola, Mara Haugen, vln; Ingrid Rugesæter, vla; Ranghild Sannes, cello / Sextet for Flute & Percussion / Eivind Sandrgind, fl; Craig Farr, Sigvald Fersum, Gard Garshol, Mathias Matland, Ola Berg Riser, perc; Ricardo Odriozola, cond / Lawo LWC 1200

It’s been nine months since I last had the chance to review a CD by Ketil Hvoslef, but this new Lawo release luckily came my way (it wasn’t available for online streaming or download, even for reviewers). so here we are with a new look at his chamber music output.

In the notes, Hvoslef says that the opening Trio “was commissioned by the Goethe Institute for two German ladies and the pianist Einar Steen Nøkleberg. It was written in 1974, and is my first attempt at writing instrumental vocal music”—i.e., wordless singing, in this case using nonsense syllables such as “ta,” “pa,” “do,” “ma,” etc. Hvoslef informs us that he has since developed, for this kind of writing, “whole meaningless words, formed in such a way that they clarify the MUSICAL meaning.” But this trio is a lot of fun to listen to, thanks primarily to the strong yet asymmetric rhythm that is set up and partially sustained by the pianist hitting the instrument with the palm of his left hand while the right plays. There’s also a strange, almost jazz-like interlude at 1:50 that adds to the bizarre quality of the piece. Our two singers happen to be students from the Grieg Academy; Hvoslef praises them for following the musical instructions of pianist Røttinger to arrive “at a singing style that is an indispensable prerequisite for this work.” Both singers have light, fresh voices, and they handle their assignment exceedingly well. A lot of fun to listen to!

Believe it or not, it is the opening of the String Quartet that cuts across your ears like a razor, with a strong unison Db played by the group before gentle but no less strange motifs and themes float in and out of our consciousness. Most of the ensuing section, however, is taken up with glissandi, which Hvoslef admits was one of his principal ideas in writing this quartet. “This is definitely urban music,” he writes. “We, as listeners, seem to be experiencing a large city on foot. What we witness is not always pleasant or comfortable, but it accrues a peculiar beauty by giving us the time to properly observe it.” Like so much of his music, it’s a strange piece and much more challenging to the listener; in addition to the glissandi, Hvoslef also has his strings play aggressive grinding sounds as well as edgy upward scale passages. Lost of road construction going on in this city, with string-powered jackhammers! And again, the syncopated rhythm he sets up around 14:30 sounds suspiciously like a jazz rhythm. Towards the end, at 19:10, we hear simulated police sirens.

But if you think that’s bizarre, when was the last time you heard a flute piece start out with a loud rim shot on the snare drum? Yet this is what we get in the Sextet, and although the flute is in there pitching, its role almost sounds subsidiary to the five percussion players. Yes, there are a few nice little phrases for the flute, but nothing that really coalesces into a theme per se. Trying to describe this piece is sort of like trying to catch sand that is running through your fingers; now you have it, now you don’t. Better to just listen and ride it out. One of the percussion instruments is a marimba, but you don’t hear it until about 6:40 into the piece, and even then it only plays a repeated rhythmic figure, not a real theme as such.

As in the case of the previous albums of Hvoslef’s chamber music, this one is a wild ride. Get the CD and fasten your seat belt!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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