CD Review: ARS NOVA - Apr.03
American Record Guide
American Record Guide
Plagge: Liber Sequentiarum; Trumpet Sonata; Solarljod. (Guide to Records).
Author/s: Barry Kilpatrick
Solveig Kringelborn, s; Ole Edvard Antonsen, tpt; Wolfgang Plagge, p--2L 5-49 minutes
Norwegian composer and pianist Wolfgang Plagge (b 1960) is fascinated by cosmic events and medieval music, and in the notes to this pair of releases he explains how the two interrelate for him. Beautiful Hubble telescope photographs of the Ring and Hourglass nebulas are shown on the covers, and Plagge writes that the material they are ejecting (propelled by the explosions of supernovas long ago) will eventually produce new cosmic objects. Just as those ancient events will spawn new ones, Plagge used medieval works as the basis for this new music.
Both discs bear the title Ars Nova. The first (subtitled 'The Medieval Inspiration') opens with Liber Sequentiarum, written for soprano Solveig Kringelborn and trumpeter Ole Edvard Antonsen in 2001. In each of the three movements, the soprano sings Gregorian songs from the Norwegian town of Nidaros (two intact, one reconstructed) while the trumpet adds ornamental material. 'Ecce Pulchra' has the trumpet and soprano take turns for a while, working together only later. The material is lively, and plenty of variety is developed through contrasts in dynamics and articulation. 'Innocentem Ta Servavit' is somber and gives the trumpet various roles: that of a drone, of a more-or-less equal partner, and of soloist in several brief, arpeggiated interludes. 'Gaudete Vos Fideles' is buoyant and includes some showy material for the trumpeter. The work is given a lovely reading. Kringelborn has a clear yet rich vocal timbre, a colorful vibrato, and excellent diction. When I last heard trumpeter Antonsen, I wrote that his playing was clean, tasty, elegant, and full of stylistic contrasts (July/Aug 1994: 218). Those comments apply here, too. He is a fine collaborator who knows when to blend, back off, or take over.
Unlike many composers, Plagge is able to discuss his music clearly and without pedantic claptrap. Of the Trumpet Sonata, composed for Antonsen in 2001, Plagge writes: "The work is in one movement, joined like a sequence. Tonal expression is modernistic, with modal, polytonal, and polyrhythmic elements. Formal progress is concentrated as well as episodic, and is concluded by a chorale quotation." The opening minutes are a slow, contemplative 'Languido', while the middle section ('Determinato') is at first merely restiess, then agitated, eventually a spectacular virtuoso display. The thoughtful mood returns in a 'Tranquillo' where Heinrich Isaac's mournful 'Innsbruck, I must Leave Thee' is intoned by muted trumpet. Plagge's Trumpet Sonata is a remarkable piece of music, and I can only hope that players on this side of the Atlantic become aware of it.
Solarljod (Song of the Sun), written for soprano Kringelborn in 1992, "is based on one of Norse medieval poetry's noblest poems. The text probably originates from 14th Century Iceland and displays a fascinating mixture of Christian and pagan symbolism". For his setting, Plagge chose 25 brief stanzas (printed here in both Norwegian and English) and grouped them into four pieces: 'The Sun I Saw', 'Bathed in Blood', 'Men I Saw Then', and 'The Sun-Hart'. Dealing with visions of death and the afterlife, the poems are an attempt by their author--so many centuries ago--to open the eyes of generations to follow. The words are vivid and thought-provoking. In the opening stanza, he says, "Let me declare with what delight in this sweet world I sojourned, and besides how the sons of men must soon become cold corpses." Later: "The sun I saw shake on the sea was filled with gloom and fear; more than a trifle torn apart, I felt my heart in fragments." The music is often modernist, often quite tonal, always accessible and expressive. Kringelborn's singing is wonderful, and Plagge proves (both here and in the Trumpet Sonata) that he is as good at the piano as he is at composing.
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