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Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen

CD: The natural World of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen

and DVD Music is a Monster

Ars Nova Copenhagen/Paul Hillier

Da Capo 6.220583

This is a mind-blowing CD which we have played several times. Not for the first time, a relatively lttle known composer from a Northern country has opened our ears afresh (the Norwegian Lasse Thoresen was the last one).

This choral programme under Paul Hillier is dazzling. The texts, compelling in themselves, are set with complete originality; what a welcome change from the German romanticism which dominates the world of the Lieder.

Many are elliptical, brief and laconic as Japanese haiku, others of earth shattering power, all translated into unforgettable musical imagery. This was a composer experienced in the complexities of the '60s, latterly moving towards his own style, a radical "simplicity", a Danish variant of minimalism; brief pieces which are self-sufficient and uniquely satisfying to hear, ponder, and listen to again.

Here we have Gudmundsen-Holmgreen in a wide gamut of styles, with gnomic titles like Examples; Statements & Three Stages, the last commisioned by Paul Hillier for a programme to include the Gibbons Cries of London. Hillier recommends non-Danish speakers to follow the texts closely whilst listening; they are all provided in parallel Danish/English texts, making it easy to do so.

Quite another matter is the Madrigals, which complete the disc with a tour-de-force. That title work of the disc, Four Madrigals from the Natural World (2001) to texts in English by Les Murray, is of such daunting complexity that even with the score I found it at first as hard to follow the music on the page as it must have been for the singers to learn the "madrigals". The words are no more than jumping-off stimulants to the composer's imagination, giving a context for extravagant music. vocalisations for Bats and Elephants, which take extended vocal techniques (especially stratospheric soprano melismata for the former) to the limits of complexity, which gradually reveals itself as of extreme beauty too.

The scores were sent to me in two versions, one for "6 to 12 part chorus", as recorded by the crack Ars Nova Copenhagen, the other for six voices, a version which might make rewarding study for some of our keenest singing students aspiring towards careers in contemporary opera. [Might there be an up-coming madrigal group in one of our music colleges/academies working towards following the achievement of this year's 8-cellos Cellophony at the annual PLGYA week?]

This great CD will left me eager to explore further the music of Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, which is recorded extensively by Da Capo.

Peter Grahame Woolf

More of Gudmundsen-Holmgreen: Da Capo has kindly provided a full selection for consideration, reminding me that I had been intrigued by a selection of his organ music nearly a decade ago.

It has proved a disconcerting journey of discovery. P G-H is determinedly uncompromising and but little of his music is "listener-friendly" in conventional terms, as was that of my last Nordic discovery, Lasse Thoresen.

Gudmundsen-Holmgreen is very much an "outsider", which becomes evident in a very personal and revelatory Portrait DVD which I do recommend unreservedly [Da Capo DVD: 2.110406].

It is a "confessional"; Pelle, with dry wit, describes music as an omnivorous monster, a demon that controls him. His first source of inspiration was Samuel Beckett, whose linguistic universe he has translated into music. The film-maker, Jytte Rex, cites his “ - - formidable ability to put words to his obsession with a wordless art. There is both simple physicality and an unbridled wildness in his music.” The DVD makes for, at times, uncomfortable viewing, but it is riveting and one of the best such productions I have come across.

Of the music on the CDs supplied there is little that I would foist upon sceptical listeners. For me. the most engaging was the diptych Moving Still, spoken and sung by Paul Hillier with the Kronos Quartet, but I was daunted by the major work on that disc, P G-H's Concerto Grosso.

Peter Grahame Woolf

For a more sympathetic review of two of the CDs, see Rob Barnett in Music Web.

See also his Horn Trio