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Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, November 2010

Ready for a tantalising tone-feast or two? This through-composed version of a work first performed at the Winter Solstice in Jutland 24 years ago, shows Danish composer Per Nørgård at his most relaxed and rewarding. Intended for ten percussionists, A Light Hour is divided into four sections, each with its own melodic, rhythmic and textural characteristics; they also draw on different traditions, such as Afro-Caribbean music in Part II and the Far East in Part III. The composer specifies that each player produce ‘bright’ and ‘dark’ sounds from ‘skin, metal and wood’, the music itself organised according to his so-called ‘infinity series’. True, that may sound overly schematic—and reminiscent of the improvisational fads of the 1960s—but this is a carefully notated, consistently inspired work that should have wide appeal.

As a recent convert to Nørgård—albeit his post-infinity-series opera Der göttliche Tivoli—I’m constantly astounded by the range of ear-catching sounds he conjures from percussion instruments. The opera—also a Dacapo offering—features a hugely talented group of players called Hoptiquaxes, who underpin the singers with music of vitality and vision. Here, the Percurama Percussion Ensemble, made up of students and teachers from the Royal Danish Academy of Music, is just as committed; as for the airy, unstressed dynamics and detail of this recording, it does the musicians proud.

So what of the work itself? Well, sometimes it’s best to cut back on the analysis and let the music speak for itself. Suffice it to say, A Light Hour presents a veritable smörgåsbord of rhythms and sonorities, lightly flavoured by xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel, gamelan and crotales. Surely even those who shy away from such fare will be tempted by its enticing sound-world? And although there’s real compositional rigour here you’d never think it, such is the ease and elegance of this music. Miraculously, Nørgård’s artful combination and opposition of rhythms and textures makes his inventions sound consistently fresh and spontaneous—and that’s quite a feat over 60 minutes. Factor in exemplary playing and sonics and I daresay you’ll be coming back for more.

Barry Kilpatrick
American Record Guide, September 2010

When Per Norgard conceived A Light Hour in 1986, it was entirely improvised. In 2008, he and Ivan Hansen developed it into a fully composed and notated work. Each of its four movements has a basic character, and although a single tempo prevails almost from beginning to end, energy levels and subdivisions of the beat come and go.

I is slow and steady, with deep-sounding drums and ringing metallic instruments. II has fast subdivisions, an Afro-Cuban feel, and a much higher energy level, along with more varied percussion sounds. A different, often quirky set of instruments is heard in an Asian-tinged III, and Balinese sounds predominate in IV.

If you enjoy long, slow-to-unfold Balinese gamelan or minimalist pieces like Riley’s In C or Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, you will enjoy this.

Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, July 2010

An hour-long work for percussion ensemble, built of systematic permutations of the same repeated pattern of two pitches—high-bright and low-dark—sounds like a prescription for tedium. That it is not is testimony to Per Nørgård’s mesmerizing rhythmic variety and percussionist/conductor/arranger Gert Mortensen’s colorful realization with the 22-member Percurama Percussion Ensemble. Though rigorously structured, this is not a work that easily leads you through its logic or even through a discernible emotional journey. Instead it seems to exist for the moment and presents patterns to be appreciated as they pass. This view is supported by booklet annotator Ivan Hansen, who assisted Nørgård in creating this version of the piece. In his notes, he relates Nørgård’s thoughts of writing a suite of pieces in which music of many styles and intensities would ebb and flow within a carefully developed structure, while audience, musicians, and perhaps dancers could come and go as the mood struck them. A Light Hour is, as he suggests, a piece that would fit into such a conception.

Nørgård created A Light Hour in 1986 as an hour-long improvisatory work for a group of amateur percussionists at a meditation center. Twenty-two years later he revisited the work, notating it for 10 or more percussionists, specifying percussion types in general—skin, metal, and wood—but leaving the actual instrumentation to the discretion of the performers. The organizing structure of the work is Nørgård’s “infinity series,” an aural equivalent of Mandelbrot fractals. Nørgård uses multiple layers of the same repeated four-measure pattern of two pitches, with high and low coinciding in the various layers, appearing at double or half the tempo of the other layers. The whole work reflects this symmetry, with four movements of approximately 15 minutes each, each divided into four subsections, which are divided into four smaller sections, etc. Each subsection provides the core material for the next three, and so on. Each section and subsection ends in a proportionally-sized “tone feast” based now on a four-pitch infinity series. Variety is provided by subtracting notes—“perforating” the line—changing stresses, and tying notes.

Every player uses a bright- and a dark-sounding instrument, and there are tuned percussion instruments that join in the “tone feasts.” Within the forms, improvisation is encouraged. Each section, as presented here, takes on a particular flavor. The first reminds one of traditional percussion ensemble fare: Aboriginal rhythms give way to jazz and rock, with a dizzying variety of styles explored as the simple beginning gives way to greater rhythmic and harmonic richness and ends in a dissonant roar of didgeridoos. Part II explores Afro-Cuban styles, with lots of drums—including steel ones—and potent bass. Part III turns to metal and wood in evoking Chinese/Asian music, with the special world of the gamelan reserved for part IV, the final quarter-hour long four-pitch “tone feast.” Near the end of that last section, the work returns to European tonality before exploding into a free-form improvisation on all that has gone before.

This is a release that should appeal to the specialist collector who enjoys Reich’s Drumming or Music for 18 Musicians built on phasing and Cage’s works using nested proportions—their rhythms and colors hypnotic, but requiring concentration and technical knowledge to appreciate the patterns. Yet I suspect Nørgård would say, as Steve Reich has also done, that appreciation of the structure is secondary to the enjoyment of the work. Going back to that idea of the evening-long informal concert suggests he would see this work, even more than Reich does his, as the antithesis of intellectual. Maybe instead of analyzing, he would suggest relaxing, enjoying the remarkable virtuosity—and endurance—of the ensemble, and just letting it happen. I can testify, now that I tried it, that that is a remarkable experience.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2010

With Per Nørgård a member of cutting edge modernity in Denmark’s musical life, A Light Hour comes as something of a surprise, the work containing a series of catchy tunes and rhythms scored for percussion. Having lived a married life with a percussionist, maybe an hour of such music does not come as the culture shock it could be to others. It begins in a mood of happiness and then takes a journey around the world to catch many ethnic styles, arriving at a collectively improvised ‘tone-feast’ sounding like a banquet of Balinese gamelan. Rhythm is the score’s major ingredient, but you are offered scraps of melody from the tuned percussion, the ensemble made up of a vast array of instruments that require a minimum of ten players. Completed in 2008, the seeds of the work began in 1986 as pure improvisation, but it now appears in a through-composed score. It is played by Gert Mortensen, the Danish percussion virtuoso, and his brilliant group, Percurama. As Nørgård dedicated the score to them, we can take this as the benchmark performance. It certainly bristles with technical expertise, and the sound engineers have given a well-balanced impact. The disc appears on the Dacapo label.

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