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Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, November 2009

Klaus Ib Jørgensen’s work has been represented by a few works already released on the Dacapo label, but his is a name unlikely to be familiar to many. Seen as his most important work to date, the substantial song cycle Moon-pain for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble sets the moon-themed poems of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) to music which responds to the texts in a highly personal and multi-layered language. The treatments range from the Sprechstimme elements in ‘In Silence and Moon’ and elsewhere, through colourful fragmentation of the words or their employment almost as pure sound, and a consistently restless atmosphere of complex melodic shapes and an uncompromising atonality. The cycle concludes with a short instrumental full-stop of stunningly serene beauty.

This kind of music is hard to tie down to a single genre. I hear moments of Berio and Schoenberg here and there, but in the end it has to be said that Jørgensen is his own man. His settings of Moon-Pain are infinitely subtle and delicate, while at the same time robust and with a sense of firm inevitability. They are composed with a fine ear for detail and the sense of drama in Pessoa’s words, but have an airy freedom which occupies a place in today’s response to the romantic traditions founded by Mahler and Zemlinsky: though once again, without the Teutonic weight of any kind of Germano-Austrian historical legacy. Jørgensen’s is a sound-world which requires a certain kind of key—not so much in terms of comprehension, but in allowing oneself become aligned with his magnetic pole. My old flute teacher Gareth Morris firmly believed players only came to like avant-garde modern music because they became used to it through endless repetition, and audiences only through a kind of perverse sense of intellectual duty. I don’t have that feeling through the performances on this recording, which have a sense of vibrancy and communicate a compulsive conviction with the quality in these pieces. The composer’s response to the constantly shifting moods of the poetry is something to which the listener becomes increasingly attuned through the duration of the piece, and on repeated listening. Singer Iris Oja certainly makes the best case for this work, with an accuracy and range of expression which draws one in immediately. She can sing conventionally with the best of them, but sample also her instrumental equality with the rest of the players at the beginning of the second in the cycle, Moonlit.

The six movements of Moon-Pain are interwoven here with two other, related compositions: Goblin Dance (2005) for clarinet and piano, and Lisbon Revisited (2008). The former, recorded at a different location, inhabits a similar kind of musical world, with the clarinet taking on the solo voice of the ‘singer’. The three movements of this piece provide a change in colour and a respite from the interactions of string instruments, though even while the textures thin the intensity remains essentially in place, with the vast potential of the clarinet explored to the full in sudden changes of direction, fluttering and breathy transformations of notes, extreme squeaks and plops. Hard to describe as this is, the music has more substance than words can suggest, with momentary glimpses and snatched fragments of potent invention, and a final movement of sublime Moon-Silence. Lisbon Revisited is a combination of recorded sounds from the streets of Pessoa’s home town of Lisbon, a poem by Pessoa in a variety of languages, and fragments of the Moon-pain music. This works very well to my mind, casting an atmosphere of Portugal and the origin of the poems, combining elements of language in surreal contexts but without over-complexity or pretension. One of the voices is that of Konrad Boehmer who I know quite well from my time at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, so I had the added dimension of Dutch familiarity popping out of the unknown and the abstract. The little fragments of distant fado singing and the jaunty ballet piano combined with Jørgensen’s own music coming from the same distant perspective are touches of brilliance. Just a slightly longer pause between this and launching into Lunar Land might have made more sense, but this is a very minor quibble.

This has the potential to be a ‘difficult’ programme, and if you musical world goes no further than 1913 then this will be outside your comfort zone. If you are attracted to this by Paul Hillier’s name then you will need to expect something entirely different to the early music or Arvo Pärt recordings for which he is better known. This is however one of those projects which just seems to ‘work’, forming a musical experience which is more than the sum of its parts. I must admit I found myself resisting to a certain extent in the initial phases of listening, but once having applied myself to a serious appraisal of the disc I was soon charmed into uncommonly magical and rarefied realms.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

Klaus Jorgensen is right at the front in the vanguard of Danish composers who are taking music who knows where. Now aged forty-two, he is much in demand on both sides of the Atlantic, with a noteworthy presence at major contemporary music festivals. The present disc contains two works only completed last year, Moon-pain and Lisbon Revisited, his atonal world is not for those who are squeamish when it comes to uncompromising modernity. He uses the mezzo soloist in so many different ways from conventional singing to screaming her way through words by the  20th century Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa. Taken from an English language collection of poems, The Mad Fiddler, the music is at times creating the mood of a nightmare. The work’s six sections, five of which are vocal, are here interspersed with the three Goblin Dances dating from 2005. Scored for clarinet and piano they sit quite happily as interludes, though the interpolation of Lisbon Revisited, a montage of voices speaking Pessoa texts in various languages come with snatches of Jorgensen’s music, is a track that I find simply irritating. The ultimate test came when I found on a second hearing, a few days later, the music of Moon-pain had remained in my memory. Iris Oja takes the virtuoso role with an assiduity that overcomes the technical challenges, while the Portuguese sextet of strings, woodwind and piano, Remix Ensemble, are obviously well-versed in the composer’s sound-world, and bring Moon-pain perfectly to its uncertain conclusion. First class engineering.

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