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<<  -- 3 --  Roderic Dunnett    MUSSORGSKIAN GIANT


One of the nicest things about Knussen is he's actually the most generous of the composers and teachers, and one who devotes swathes of his time to promoting the works not of himself, but of others. On 1 February 2002 he will conduct the Sinfonietta in Marc-Anthony Turnage's Dark Crossing, which Turnage has likened to 'a dark La Mer'. In April 2002, beside Where the Wild Things Are, he will conduct the première of Peter Lieberson's new symphony (as well as Sibelius's Luonnotar and Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No 1 -- each electrifying in its way).

His recordings of Elliott Carter (some dozen works, including three concertos : the Violin Concerto won Carter a Grammy Award), Wuorinen, Birtwistle, Goehr, Henze, Saxton, Ruders, Holloway, Colin Matthews, Ruth Crawford Seeger and Magnus Lindberg (whose music he is currently celebrating with the London Sinfonietta) stand as testimony to his efforts; so do those of works by Per Nørgård and the brilliant and neglected Webern and Busoni pupil, Stefan Wolpe (l902-72). Typically, when Knussen takes a final bow, he invariably holds up the score, so as to highlight the composer, not himself.

His own works are uniformly galvanising : Choral (l970/75), for instance, which bears the funereal motto 'Lacrimosa dies illa.....' began life as a piece for large wind orchestra, percussion and double basses; after its première Michael Tilson Thomas persuaded him to enlarge the orchestra to the scope of Mahler's Second Symphony, and conducted the American Symphony Orchestra's revised première at Carnegie Hall.

It began, Knussen explains, 'as a sort of "Ivesian" vision, in which I saw several funeral processions converging onto a point in the distance ... The title refers both to the employment of the large wind orchestra in discrete choirs, which shift as the piece progresses, and also to the statuesque chorale. It's in essence the decoration of a single, immensely slow sequence of four chords. The third section (built out of Scriabin's "Mystery Chord" C/F-sharp/B-flat/E/A/D) builds to a violent climax, culminating in a simultaneous statement of all four chords in one massive dissonance. On another level the work gradually accelerates from an extremely slow pace, at which almost nothing happens, to a more normal state of progression towards the end.'

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Copyright © 17 November 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK






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