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Peter Burwasser
Fanfare, November 2009

The Danish composer Gudmundsen-Holmgreen also encompasses a large range of gestures and styles in his musical vocabulary… manages to convey it all in a singular voice. This is one of the most compelling new piano concertos I have heard in a long time, and it is presented in a remarkably fine performance.

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

Peter Burwasser
Fanfare, July 2009

Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen has one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary music…With this 2005 music for piano and orchestra, Gudmundsen-Holmgreen…covers a broad range of styles and languages, at times quite abstract, and elsewhere nostalgic (Mozart has the last say), but remarkably, it all holds together, defying the constant danger of lapsing into pastiche. Gudmundsen-Holmgreen finds a narrative flow that gives the sprawling piece an architectural integrity, with a palpable sense of a beginning, middle, and end. His refreshingly normal emotional equilibrium is reflected in natural shifts from deep contemplation to visceral power, to spirited and smart humor. The riff on Mozart reminded me of the brilliant work inspired by classical music from the jazz pianist Uri Caine. On the whole, Gudmundsen-Holmgreen writes, at this juncture in his career, with apparent confidence in his bold and personal technique. It is impossible not to be beguiled by his unique manner of expression, but ultimately, it is the expression itself that remains, as the tools fade to the background, where they belong.

The 1992 For Piano is a similar mix of beauty and adventure. The last movement, “Keep Going (Little Bird, Blue)” is a touching, highly personal homage to the blues. Gudmundsen-Holmgreen writes music that can be complex, but it rarely appears as overtly virtuosic. Performances are faultless to the ear, that is, without benefit of the score as a reference, they sound idiomatic and committed. Special kudos to the excellent Danish orchestra, which sounds fully engaged, and, dare one say it, having a lot of fun. These are world premiere recordings.

Joshua Kosman
San Francisco Chronicle, June 2009

The excellent spate of records coming from the Danish label Dacapo continues to shine a welcome light on the music of that nation—a musical scene too little known in these parts. Here’s a perfect example, a large and wonderfully idiosyncratic piano concerto by 76-year-old Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen. “Plateaux” unfolds in nine sharply contrasting movements—some expansive, some tiny and elusive—with a combination of brusque aggression and lyricism that is reminiscent of György Ligeti. In some movements the orchestra, led by thuggish timpani, threatens to overpower the piano; elsewhere, the solo part asserts itself with beguiling simplicity. The struggle comes to a head in the penultimate movement—nearly twice as long as any of the others—which works through a number of returning thematic elements. A tender, witty coda invokes Mozart’s “Coronation” Concerto. Fine Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen brings out the music’s reflective side and fills out the disc with the grittier cycle “For Piano.”

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, April 2009

Plateaux for piano and orchestra is in nine movements just like the hectically detailed piano concerto by the Finn Kimmo Hakola (Ondine). It plays for just short of 38 minutes and the division into movements is unusual for him. Gudmundsen-Holmgreen has written a Violin Concerto and a Cello Concerto and these works are in single continuous stretches. The music in this case is unconventional and is certainly like no other piano concerto I know. It is a series of miniature essays and character sketches. These are minimally instrumented. Brass snarl in terse threat. Little shards of jazzy motifs shudder and slur. Brut (4) sets off a stamping and threatening pattern and there’s even more belligerent snarling from the deep brass. The ruthless piano tramping is a shade of Stravinskian rites. The piano acts as a stony agent provocateur - an inciter to violence. The demeanour of the music changes in the eighth movement where, of a sudden, the music seems to be warmed into congeniality and optimistically sunny confidence. The piano takes on a rhetorical heroic stance. This smile moves into the finale movement En majeur. Those last two movements invoke a collage of the shades of Vaughan Williams, Copland and Mozart (Piano Concerto No. 26). Exciting textures and mystery: what more can you ask? Pairing this with the Hakola would make for a fascinating concert. You could add Luigi Nono’s Como una ola de fuerza e luz just for good measure.

For Piano is from 1992 and is his most extensive piece for solo piano. It’s in three movements. Stuttering discontinuity and sudden accesses of fluency characterise the music. Lullaby seems about to launch lazily into P[eter] M[axwell] D[avies]’s Farewell to Stromness but instead rocks gently with smooth-edged skirling and crooning fragments. The final section is more upstart and explosive.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2009

Born in Denmark in 1932, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen has never slavishly joined current trends, and as a result has not received the recognition of today’s fashionable composers. Speaking out early in his career against the Danish musical conservatism that he felt could not sustain his creativity, he has plowed a lone furrow. How far he has now travelled comes in Plateaux pour piano et orchestra from 2005,a nine movement concerto score whose mood is set by the name appended to each movement. Many are short and are little more than a brief interlude, and throughout you feel an inquiring mind intent on experimenting with tonal colours and a childlike joy teasing the listener in his juxtapositions. For Piano goes back to 1992, and while the three movements have a thematic link, the composer also offers them as individual compositions. I played Plateaux several times before being admitted to its pleasures, though the tonality of For Piano provides a more instantly likeable piece. The performance of both strikes me as dedicated and immaculately prepared. The soloist is offered little in outgoing virtuosity,  though the young Finnish pianist, Juho Pohjonen, is highly impressive in both works. The Danish National Symphony is directed by the highly rated Dutch musician, Ed Spanjarad, and the disc enjoys good sound quality.

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