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Jean-Yves Duperron
Classical Music Sentinel, October 2009

A favorite modern day living composer of mine, the Danish Poul Ruders, was commissioned by the BBC in the mid 1990’s to compose a work to celebrate the tercentenary of Purcell’s death. Thus came about the major work on this CD, the Concerto In Pieces, a set of variations on a theme by Purcell. It was meant as a sort of sequel to ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’ by Benjamin Britten, to be performed at the Last Night of the Proms. The connection, or resemblance of those two works ends at the use of a theme by Purcell. While Britten’s approach was musically straightforward, and based on instrumental groups within the orchestra, the approach taken by Ruders is quite different. This composer has always been a great orchestrator and manipulates the orchestra brilliantly in and around these 10 variations to create new and intriguing soundscapes at each and every turn. He has this strange ability to get sounds out of an orchestra you wouldn’t think existed. The main theme goes through some serious transformations along the way, but returns in full force during the exhilarating final variation. The conductor Thomas Sondergård delivers an accurate and thrilling account of this important new work. Great sound recording that captures all the orchestral magic.

The other works on this CD are the Violin Concerto No. 1 composed in 1981, which is a kind of mysterious tip of the hat to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and another fascinating experiment in orchestral sonics, a piece titled Monodrama, for percussion and orchestra, that never ceases to capture your attention during its 31 minutes.

If you are not familiar with Poul Ruders, take the plunge. The water might seem cold at first, but after a while you will welcome the change and enjoy the shock.

Vivien Schweitzer
The New York Times, September 2009

THE Danish composer Poul Ruders wrote his vivacious, expertly wrought “Concerto in Pieces” (1995) as a sequel to Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.” Commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he followed Britten’s example and composed variations on a theme by Purcell: in this case the Witches’ ‘Ho-Ho-Ho’ chorus from Act II of “Dido and Aeneas.”

Thomas Sondergard conducts the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra in a high-energy performance of the engaging score, in which Mr Ruders spotlights different instruments with witty juxtapositions and quirky timbral effects. The theme is tossed among different groups of instruments in the third variation, then woven through a bluesy prism. The saxophone plays a languidly beautiful, rhapsodic solo, which is then taken up by the tuba in the fifth variation, and the sixth features explosive percussion. An eerie trumpet solo in the eighth variation and a frenzy of string pizzicatos in the ninth lead to the re-emergence of the theme in the triumphant, throbbing Finale fugato.

The disc also includes Mr Ruders’s Violin Concerto No. 1 (1981), a homage to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” that reveals Mr Ruders’s Minimalist affinities. The soloist’s frenetic line in the first movement, which Erik Heide plays with flair, unfolds over repetitive figurations and rhythms and the moody harmonies from the first movement of Vivaldi’s “Winter” concerto. After the elegiac second movement, which Mr Heide performs sensitively, comes the finale, “Winter Chaconne,” which veers between exuberance and introspection.

Mathias Reumert is the able soloist in the brooding “Monodrama” (1988), a percussion concerto that Mr Ruders describes as “pretty grim.” Apocalyptic might be a better description of the manner in which the percussionist, accompanied by dark orchestral rumblings, pounds his way through to a stark conclusion.

David Patrick Stearns
The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 2009

Danish composer Ruders is long-established for any number of challenging works, such as his operatic adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” But would you ever guess that some of his music plays like stand-up comedy? That’s certainly the case with the 1995 “Concerto in Pieces,” which challenges Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to Orchestra” by exploiting some of the more extreme possibilities of the symphony orchestra. As with the Britten, a Henry Purcell theme is the piece’s basis, though Ruders disassembles it into discrete layers that are juxtaposed at different speeds. The 1981 “Violin Concerto No. 1” is full of all sorts of witty Vivaldi references with his distinctive sense of time manipulation.

But what makes this an almost ideal encapsulation of Ruders’ art is the disc’s concluding piece—the serious 1988 “Monodrama,” which has been described as “New Rage as opposed to New Age.” Percussion virtuoso Matthias Reumert acts as a frame for a troubled landscape of aggressive, atonal adventures in all sections of the orchestra with an apocalyptic climax. Performances of these often crowded musical collages will never be easy, but there’s no hint of struggle and many flashes of comprehension on this disc.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2009

Describing himself as a self-taught composer, Poul Roders is one of the major names in Danish contemporary music, having earned his early living as a church organist and freelance pianist. Born in 1949, he studied both instruments at the Royal Danish Consevatoire, at the same time developing a style of composition that moves freely between tonality and atonality. The Concerto in Pieces was composed for London’s annual ‘Last Night of the Proms’ in 1996, and, by using a theme by Purcell, came head to head with Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. It does not really form an alternative, though the ten variations take us around the orchestra with a sense of fun, and, like Britten, it ends with a brilliant fugue. Often noisy, always full of interesting sounds, it proves modern music can be instantly likeable. The Violin Concerto, from 1981, has been recorded before, and stands among the most compelling concertos in the second half of the 20th century. Beginning in minimalist mode, it expands in atonality before reaching the virtuoso finale that harks back a couple of hundred years in its construction. The most extensive piece on the disc, Monodrama, is scored for solo percussionist and orchestra. Often highly repetitive in enlarged minimalism, it would be wrong to describe it as atonal, this long score—over 30 minutes—being a journey through a world of sound and rhythms. I needed  a few hearings before eventually loving the high impact work. The soloists, Mathias Reumert in Monodrama, and Erik Heide in the concerto, are outstanding, Heide producing unfailingly accurate intonation. The Aarhus Symphony give highly committed performances directed by Thomas Sondergard, and the engineering delivers clarity in thick textures.

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