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CD review: Baut

Bente Illevold is magnetically drawn to the dark edges of Stig Nordhagen's icy anxieties with her latest solo release.




Stig Nordhagen: Musikk for Eufonium
Soloist: Bente Illevold
Featuring: Gunnar Flagstad, Anders Kregnes Hansen, Strings Unlimited  
AT Recordings: 
Available on Spotify and other platforms

An immersive atmosphere of icy tension and unsettling questioning permeates the music of Stig Nordhagen. 

It envelopes the listener in his major works for brass band – drawing you to the edge of disturbing discoveries and deep-seated anxieties; the inky black Stygian depths of a local lake in ‘Myth Forest’  and the chiaroscuro opposites of ‘Searching for Light’  amongst them.

Illevold is also a perceptive, explorative performer. A commissioner of over 20 new works, her debut CD release made its mark in the classical music world; her second ‘Alene’ was nominated for the 4BR Solo CD of the Year in 2021. 

Two empty Norwegian churches add an authentic air of spookiness to the soundscape, the deceptive, subtle accompaniment of pianist Gunnar Flagstad, percussionist Anders Kregnes Hansen and the Strings Unlimited quartet adding to the atmosphere.

It's a pity then that this satisfying collaboration, especially given the production quality, comes only in download format. Two empty Norwegian churches add an authentic air of spookiness to the soundscape, the deceptive, subtle accompaniment of pianist Gunnar Flagstad, percussionist Anders Kregnes Hansen and the Strings Unlimited quartet adding to the atmosphere.

Elemental form

Nordhagen’s ‘Euphonium Concerto’  (originally written in 1997 but revised for piano and percussion accompaniment) has been refined into elemental form; Illevold’s sound appearing like the icy breath from the lungs on a lonely, early morning walk.  

A taut opening movement scans a dark horizon, promising virtuosic light and optimism, the soloist gradually gaining warmth and vigour. The second draws the music to its crisp, sharp-edged conclusion, the bones chilled by the cold air gulped down by the anxiety and unwavering tension.   

The second draws the music to its crisp, sharp-edged conclusion, the bones chilled by the cold air gulped down by the anxiety and unwavering tension.   

‘Divertimento’  (for euphonium and piano) sees the composer deliberately match parodic form and function within its unworldliness.  Illevold brings an impish mischievousness to the first movement, a playful sarcasm to the second, and dark, passionate reverence to the third.  A grotesque intertwining between soloist and piano accompaniment brings it all to a feverish end.

Different complexities

‘Sonata’  (for euphonium and piano) offers complexity of a different kind; the introduction flowing with perky optimism into a tender, expressive second movement.

The third adds energy, although twisting itself into an unresolved finish. That is left to the expansive fourth movement which picks up a sense of dark adventure to drive to its edgy climax.   

Taut and disturbing

‘Baut’  (meaning to ‘sail against the winds’) brings together the soloist with percussion and string quartet for an imposing concerto work (over 25 minutes in duration). 

It is inspired by the elements that have long underpinned the composer’s musical outlook; an almost magnetic desire to step ever closer with our inquisitive minds to the edge of the darkest abyss.

Finally, it draws on a perilous, skeletal energy; remaining just a stone’s throw from a return to the depths, the final note a deathly percussive clang of uncertainty.

Underpinned by fragmentary cells of Nordic folk song that echo on the air to push against the bows and into troubled waters, the music soon reveals its astringent binding– taut and disturbing, leading the soloist (and listener) even further away from the shore.  

The stillness that follows is forlorn and hopeless, occasionally lifted by unexpected movement as the music decays away. 

Finally, it draws on a perilous, skeletal energy; remaining just a stone’s throw from a return to the depths, the final note a deathly percussive clang of uncertainty.

Iwan Fox


To purchase: https://www.euphonia.no/en

Play list:
1. Euphonium Concerto (Stig Nordhagen)
Version for Euphonium, Piano, Percussion

2. Divertimento for Euphonium and Piano (Stig Nordhagen)

3. Sonata for Euphonium and Piano (Stig Nordhagen)

4. Baut for Euphonium, Percussion and String Quartet (Stig Nordhagen) 
 

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