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Jay Batzner, March 2010

DaCapo has released a new recording of Per Nørgård’s Symphony #3, a masterpiece of color and structure to say the least. The only other recording of this work that I have ever encountered (and perhaps the only other recording) is the Chandos release paired with Nørgård’s piano concerto. The Chandos recording has served me well over the years and was a major contributor to me becoming a fan of Nørgård’s music. This new recording, however, is sonically superior in almost every respect. The sounds are sharper, crisper, and more detailed.

From the opening piano notes, through the glistening high-pitch descending lines, to the rich full brass and vibrant flexatone in the first three minutes, I felt like I was hearing this work for the first time again. The sonic clarity and crispness of the performance is perfectly stunning. The orchestra and voices perform with an infectious sense of joy and tranquility. I can’t listen to the piece without my stomach fluttering.

There are moments in the piece that I think are best left to recording, dare I say, instead of a live performance. This symphony is a work in which anything can and will happen. The organ’s entrance is a moment of musical perfection, especially when you don’t know it is going to happen (sorry to spoil the surprise). The same goes for the choir’s entrance 10 minutes into the second movement. You didn’t know that you wanted to hear voices until they emerge. Ulla Munch’s solo is buttery and lovely.

The disc also presents the world premiere recording of Nørgård’s Symphony #7. This composition is an excellent pairing to Nørgård’s Symphony #3 as there are many similar sonic elements but the overall tone is much darker with more drive. Instead of languishing in transcendant lush harmonies and colors from the symphony from the 70s, Nørgård’s most recent symphony (completed 2006) is full of agitation and motoric contraptions. The first movement’s molto agitato looses its steam for just a moment in the middle before winding back up again. Simple melodic paths and sprawling chords form the second movement but still placed together in a disquieted way. The ending movement is a jagged and dance-like romp that sounds like it could serve as a contemporary Petrouchka ballet. The same high-quality recording and performance holds true in this symphony. You hear everything that happens and everyone is performing on their highest level.

Paul Orgel
Fanfare, November 2009

Nørgård’s monumental Third Symphony, also issued this year on a sonically amazing recording. This is challenging music by a major composer who deserves to be far better known.

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, August 2009

If I had to choose a word, especially for the already fairly well-known Third (1972–7), it would be ecstatic. There is a certain tension in these pieces that border on the rapturous, and even though the melodic development is not of the sonata-form type, the soaring lines and blissful choral passages—using the hymn Ave Maria Stella, Hail, Star of the Sea, and Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sing, My Heart, of Unknown Gardens Poured in Glass—give us a non-linear presentation of the words in a way that faithfully graces the music. The Seventh Symphony is far more recent (2004–6), and though structurally more noteworthy, at least to these ears, its sonorities play an even greater significance due to the presence of 14 tuned toms, which are wonderfully scored as a sort of interior repeated motif that surfaces with slightly different orchestration each time, beautifully placed among basses and cellos particularly for a memorable event. The only surprise for me was the rather drop-off ending. Though no accelerando is ever made to a climax, this denouement cuts us off rather suddenly without warning.

There are moments of great beauty in both of these works, and I am sure further hearings will reveal many secrets. This is music is modern to be sure, but of a type where real communicability is possible for those willing to give it a go. The surround sound only adds to the experience.

Paul Cook
American Record Guide, July 2009

I had thought Per Norgard’s Symphony 3 on Chandos 9491 (M/J 1997) couldn’t be beat. After all, Leif Segerstam’s handling of all music Scandinavian is usually flawless. This performance with a different orchestra and different conductor trumps the Chandos. Dausgaard offers a crispness and clarity of detail that Segerstam misses. I also found more cohesiveness in the melodic lines that braid the work: it’s remarkably romantic, when you probe it deeply enough. Segerstam brings out the rough assertiveness of the work, it’s true, but Dausgaard brings out its soul—icy as it can be sometimes. Dacapo’s engineers also have the Chandos team beat (which, for my money, is very hard to do.) Either reading suggests that this work is a major symphony, and I plan to keep both in my library.

Symphony 3 was composed from 1972 to 1975. Symphony 7, here a premiere recording, was written from 2004 to 2006. Symphony 7 is more angular, more aggressive—abrasive—the use of tom-toms figure prominently in this piece—and will come off most definitely as a post-modern work. If Symphony 3 conjures the northern landscape, Symphony 7 conjures urban centers. Rhythms are broken; motifs are thrown out, then abandoned (the tom-toms supply the dramatic equivalent of a person perhaps stumbling along a city street). When the chaos comes to a quiet end, a C-major consonance emerges that shows the romantic (neoor post-, take your pick) core to the work. It’s not as friendly as Symphony 3, but it does reveal the composer in a contemporary mood that offers something for everyone. Sonics, staging, human voices—all are confidently assembled here; and I would say this is, so far, one of the year’s best releases.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, June 2009

Per Nørgård is best known for his seven symphonies; Nos. 3 and 7 have been superbly recorded by Thomas Dausgaard, the Danish National Vocal Ensemble and Choir and the Danish National Orchestra. Nørgård is a fine orchestrator; the Third Symphony (a 43-minute, two-movement piece with choral and vocal solos) begins luminously, even if little happens thereafter. The materials in this work are so amorphous that the ultimate effect is like looking at an abstract picture. No. 7 seems a more controlled work, rather than the stream-of-consciousness progression of No. 3. Its four movements are also vague structurally, but sound well. Odd music, for a major figure in Danish culture.

Robert Benson
Classics CD Review, June 2009

And quite dazzling is the Dacapo issue of Danish composer Per Norgard’s Symphonies 3 and 7. Symphony No. 3 dates from 1972–1975; Symphony No. 7 was written over a two-year period beginning in 2004. Both symphonies are fascinating, imaginatively written and scored, and have something to say. Symphony No. 3 was composed during Norgard’s “infinity” period which focuses on “motion,” and usually there are many things going on at the same time, with many brilliant cascading effects in percussion and high instruments. A large chorus is heard in the second movement with a text by Rilke from his poem Sing die Gärten from his Sonnets to Orpheus, and later quotes Schubert’s Du bist die Ruh, all in the most grandiose fashion. The work is dedicated to Thomas Daussgard who conducts this performance. Symphony No. 7 is on a somewhat lesser scale, but equally impressive. It’s unique scoring includes14 “tuned toms” as well as a large battery of percussion. Countless bits of themes and ideas are tossed about and developed. The SACD engineering is spectacular. The orchestra is in front with ample reflected sounds from other speakers, with a wide dynamic range and the many shimmering percussive effects perfectly captured. This is an outstanding release! Get it!

David Hurwitz, June 2009

Per Norgard is a major force among Danish composers, and no wonder. His music has exuberance, brilliance, and the freedom from inhibition or routine that we expect of a true symphonist in this post-Mahlerian age. His Third Symphony, in two big movements, features in its finale a chorus that among other things sings the Latin hymn Ave maris stella as well as a poem by Rilke. The words are completely unintelligible, what with all the other stuff going on at the same time, but it hardly matters because the music is stunningly colorful, atmospheric (cosmic even), and often very beautiful. There are tunes here, triadic harmonies, as well as wild dissonance, but it’s all controlled so as to create an impressively intense pattern of tension and release, and to keep the ear engaged. You won’t take in all of it the first time through, but you will want to come back for more, which is the first indication that we’re dealing with a serious contender for “classic” status.

The Seventh Symphony, which just had its premiere a few months ago, is a bit tougher in its harmonic acerbity, but it’s also easy to hear the same creative voice at work. In three short movements, it features prominent solos for 14 tuned tom-toms, and this highlights the driving force of rhythm that plays a major role here. The piece is over before you know it, and leaves you wanting more.

The performances under Thomas Dausgaard, recorded in the composer’s presence, are presumably authoritative and sound just splendid. The orchestral playing has plenty of the necessary bravura, and in the Third Symphony the singers are very well integrated within the complex instrumental textures. If you’re looking for some really good contemporary music, challenging but rewarding, full of personality and integrity, then this powerfully engineered production offers a perfect opportunity to satisfy your craving.

Joshua Kosman
San Francisco Chronicle, April 2009

Per Nørgård is one of those rare marvels, a composer who has both a compositional system and an artistic vision. The 76-year-old Danish master builds his music around something he calls the “infinity series,” a plan for ordering pitches that produces deep-rooted symmetries that the listener can actually perceive. But he joins that to a powerful dramatic voice and a resourceful mastery of orchestration, and the results, in the two symphonies given brilliant readings here by the Danish National Symphony, are bold and arresting. Nørgård’s rhetoric can often be overpowering—he favors loud, heavy textures—but there’s a Wagnerian sweep and grandeur to his writing that is leavened by sudden appearances of dance interludes or little bursts of sunny tonal harmony.

James Leonard, April 2009

About halfway through the second movement of Danish composer Per Nørgård’s Third Symphony, some listeners may feel tempted to stop the disc. You’ll know it when you get there: the moment when the post-expressionist mists clear and the mixed choir suddenly breaks into a rambunctious Latin American dance number. Don’t give up. While the opening movement has its acute harmonic difficulties and the closing movement’s thematic content is a wild mashup of styles and idioms, there are still pages of such otherworldly beauty throughout the Third that, for some listeners at least, the journey will have been worth the 45-minute time investment. One can easily imagine in a lesser performance how the work could sound like an unholy amalgam of Messiaen’s radiant religiosity and Scriabin’s ecstasy. But in this dedicated performance by the Danish National Orchestra, Choir, and Vocal Ensemble under the direction of Thomas Dausgaard, the Third’s swirling colors, whirling tempos, indeterminate form, and extravagant gestures command respect if not necessarily admiration.

Nørgård’s Seventh Symphony, written 30 years later, hardly sounds like the work of the same man. Though there are hints of the earlier composer in some of the brass interjections and the timpani tattoos, the Seventh sounds like the work of a more conservative composer who had been influenced perhaps too much by Stravinsky’s postwar neo-classical works. Once again Dausgaard and the Danish National Orchestra turn in wholly committed performances, but this time the results are less impressive, in large part because the music itself is less distinctive. Both works receive cool, clear yet vivid recordings from Dacapo.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

Per Norgard is one of the most prolific composers of our time, presently working on his 400th composition, his symphonies acting as milestones in a career that has seen so many stylistic changes. The accompanying booklet gives an overview of this evolution, though it is our response to the product on offer that is the major criterion. Completed in 1975, the Third is atonal in content, Norgard employing sound colours to produce a dynamic and readily approachable score. In two extended movements, snatches of melody and beauty regularly appear, and offer a lifeline to those who find modern music baffling. The second movement introduces a chorus that appears in the background and grows to a massive crescendo in praise of the universe’s beauty. It has become Norgard’s most critically acclaimed score, and now for our evaluation we have his Seventh completed in 2006—when he was 74—and heard in its world premiere recording. It belongs to the group that I name as ‘slithery composers’, the music loaded with glissandos, and tricky rhythms to capture attention. It is in three short movements, the interesting layers of sound always engaging but will ask of your time to familiarise itself. Start with the energising rhythms of the last movement, the brass sliding around in pirouettes, gentle percussion effects adding piquancy. Throughout the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, with conductor, Thomas Dausgaard, perform with the commitment new music requires. Magnificent sound engineering.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group