I have made no secret of my passion for the music which has been coming out of the Scandinavian portion of our planet. My knowledge of these musical traditions is mostly limited to the twentieth century up to the present but what a horn of plenty there is to be had. There are so many composers that it is forgivable if one of them fails to get worldwide attention and acclaim during their lifetime. Or is it?
Well if sins of omission that have been committed all can now be forgiven and the memory of Axel Borup-Jørgenson (1924-2012) is likely guaranteed to remain solidly in the history of music of the twentieth century. The Danes take their music very seriously it seems (check out the You Tube Channel for the Danish National Symphony Orchestra if you don’t believe me) and producer Lars Hannibal and his crew have labored tirelessly to bring this formerly obscure master most deservingly to light in this DVD/CD combo pack featuring some of his finest works.
This truly major release contains a DVD with a gorgeous animated feature synced to the late composer’s swan song big orchestral piece, Marin op. 60 (1963-70) a really beautifully produced documentary (“Axel”) on the composer featuring some of his fellow composers including, Finn Savery, Pelle Gudmunsen-Holmgreen, Bent Sørensen, Sunleif Rasmussen, Per Nørgard, Gert Mortensen, Ib Nørholm, Michala Petri, and producer Lars Hannibal along with family and other musicians and producers.
The animated feature looks like one of the finer entries one might find on Vimeo. The animation was done by Lùckow Film and works well with the music. The biographical feature does a spectacular job of placing the composer in context with his Nordic contemporaries and with contemporary music in general. The people interviewed give about as definitive a description of the man’s work as can be done in a film biography and the intervening or connecting scenes bespeak a high level concept of cinematography that makes this film both compelling and a delight for the eyes as well as the mind. The concept of the composer’s use of silence as a compositional tool seems to be reflected in these transitional scenes.
The CD consists of seven carefully selected pieces on seven tracks. The disc opens with the big orchestra piece which was heard behind the animation on the DVD, Marin Op. 60 (1963-70) followed by Music for Percussion and Viola Op. 18 (1955-56), For Cembalo and Orgel Op. 133 (1989), Nachtstuck Op. 181 (1987) (played here by the composer’s daughter, Elisabeth Selin), Winter Pieces Op. 30b (1959) for piano, Pergolato Op. 182 (2011) for treble recorder, and Coast of Sirens Op. 100 (1980-85) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, guitar, piano, percussion, and multivoice tape. This is truly a balanced portrait with examples of orchestral, solo instrument, keyboard, chamber and electroacoustic works from 1959-2011, a more than fair sampling of the composer’s output both by genre and by time.
The music seems to move between post-romantic tonality and expressionistic experiments such as one hears in the music of Gyorgy Ligeti. The music is evocative and very listenable especially if one avails one’s self of the introductory film. It certainly seemed to tune this reviewer’s ears properly. It is helped as well by some very fine recordings that capture the subtlety of the composer’s work.
Lars Hannibal is clearly the guiding hand in this project but his genius (he is a fine guitarist as well as a producer) is his ability to engage all these fine musicians, artists, producers, and family in what is one of the most loving portraits this writer has ever seen. Now that is the way to blast someone out of obscurity forever.
And this is but one entry in a larger project to record the composer’s complete output. Two previous releases were reviewed on this blog and, presumably there are more to come. But in the meantime there is much to savor here and one hopes that this will introduce this music into the general repertoire. I’m sure Axel would be pleased to be placed as he is now among the masters of Danish composers.