, December 2004
"This is a splendid disc of challenging but very beautiful music by a composer with a recognizably personal idiom. More importantly, these three works, dating from between 1968 and 2002, very clearly show just how expressively flexible and wide ranging that idiom can be. The earliest of them, Voyage into the Golden Screen, was the first in which Norgard employed the evolving variation technique that he terms an "infinity series", and while this may sound forbiddingly technical, the results are anything but. The work's first movement consists of a series of drones for strings punctuated by brief microtonal excursions and percussive eruptions, while the brief second movement features minimalist-style repetitions of a calm woodwind motive atop longer instrumental lines. Despite the use of extended tonality and atonality, the orchestral textures remain luminous and attractive throughout, and Norgard has no trouble sustaining the work's length.
The violin concerto, Borderlines (from 2002), makes sport with a similar alternation of consonant and dissonant or microtonal passages, but with very different results. It's gratifying to hear how lyrical the solo writing is, despite the obvious challenges that the solo part offers Rebecca Hirsch, who plays with unfailing confidence and beautiful tone. The scoring, for strings and percussion, permits every note of the solo part to project without strain, but at the same time the accompaniments that Norgard contrives never lack color or variety. The prevailing emotion seems to be one of sadness, but even at its most "modern" the music never loses the long, singing line or abandons a certain prevailing sweetness that's really quite special. Again, the music isn't easy, and I doubt it's meant to be, but there's no questioning its organic construction or expressive directness, and I will enjoy hearing it more frequently. It has substance.
Dream Play (1975) is the most charming piece on the disc, a single movement slightly more than 10 minutes long. It has a very clear "theme and variations" feel, perhaps owing to the principal melody's piquant harmonic coloring (very Danish, in the style of Nielsen). Norgard characteristically opposes short, perky wind writing with longer lines in the strings, all backed by arresting percussion scoring with prominent bells. It's immediately appealing and quite memorable. So are these performances, in which the Copenhagen Philharmonic plays idiomatically and with evident enthusiasm under Giordano Bellincampi. The sonics are simply perfect, ideally placing the orchestra in a warmly natural perspective. This is one of the best contemporary music discs to come along in quite a while. Very highly recommended."