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Music by Poul Ruders

CD Review
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In the opening of Poul Ruders' Symphony No 2 (1995-96) I hear the spinning cries of swifts constantly on the wing, soaring around the sky, and disappearing into silence with the threat of rainfall, the onset of which their instincts sense for fear of being brought down to the earth from which they would not be able to rise. (Click to listen).

Throughout its large-scale single movement, there appears to be a play between that wheeling flight of freedom and the powerful menace of earthly care that gradually beats those freedoms into submission, for 26 minutes later, after the 'soundings and changes' of the symphony's subtitle ('Symphony and Transformation'), the dramatic momentum of the pounding rhythm that has been fermenting in the background overpowers all (click to listen) and the massive piece ends beneath a still darkened sky, though the thunder has rolled away. (Click to listen).

Poul Ruders is 50 this year and has, over the last decade, become one of only a small group of Danish composers to gain an international acknowledgement of his powerfully distinctive imagination and immense skill as a colourful and sensitive orchestrator. There is no awkward contrivance and half-learned craft about this orchestral writing. It is polished clean and serves its Gothic atmospheres clearly. The music is about using and changing textures, about polyphony and judiciously scaled rhythms, and it has shapes in a Renaissance sense rather than melodic fragments and classical motifs.

Ruders uses his material as Gesualdo might have done, had there been an orchestra for the scurrilous Prince to use! Ruders' first symphony was a BBC commission for the 1990 Promenade Concerts, the first in seven years to be offered to a composer outside the UK.

Five years later, the same summer festival heard his Viola Concerto, and he made a highly positive impression (as a good composer should) on the 'Last Night' Proms audience in 1996 by using his orchestrational skills in a good humoured reworking of Purcell to show off the sounds of the orchestra.

Poul Ruders: Symphony No. 2 - Piano Concerto. Copyright (c) 1999 dacapo recordsThe complementary work on this new Danish Radio CD is a three movement Piano Concerto of 1994, played by the young (35) British pianist Rolf Hind whose repertoire of new works is formidable.

This is a piece of immense beauty. It begins as if the piano were swimming in a pool of brightly lit water (click to listen) and rises to a strident climax through a sequence of musical events that have the character of variations, each one making a thorough exploration of its material before casting it aside to swim along to another, eventually disappearing, quite suddenly, beneath the surface. The second movement is a slow, languid, mesmerising falling of notes like heavy drops into the pool, some of which make wide rings of string sound as they roll away, the shimmering hanging with a transparent glow. And the succint 'prestissimo' finale is a scattering of scales around strong supports (click to listen) that eventually evaporate, like cascading bubbles, upwards and away out of sight. (Click to listen).

The Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Markus Stenz in the Piano Concerto, and Michael Schønwandt in the live recording of Symphony No 2.

I must be enthusiastic about this music, for whilst it is challenging, it is also fascinatingly inventive, it has beauty and poise - and the composer's technical mastery is both heard and felt.

One can have confidence in this sort of artist.

Copyright © Patric Standford, July 17th 1999



Symphony No. 2 (Symphony and Transformation) (1995-6)
Piano Concerto (1994)

Rolf Hind, piano
Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Markus Stenz and Michael Schønwandt, conductors

dacapo 8.224125           DDD          55'11

Recorded in cooperation with Danmarks Radio


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