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Thursday, August 4, 2022

Poul Ruders, Harpsichord Concerto, Mahan Esfahani, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Leif Segerstam


The fecundity and presence of NeoClassicism in music--the interjection of some past elements into a present-day Modernism--has had its ups and downs. Stravinsky most certainly benefited greatly by such possibilities. He had a clear idea of what to do and he did it to our great aural satisfaction. Certainly someone like a Penderecki and what he did with the Passion took advantage of early music expression and forms at times, and there can be little doubt about the beauty and expressiveness of Part and his clear adaptation of earlier music ideas or sonics. Not everything has been wonderful that has come out more or less under this rubric, but that is true of pretty much everything.

Last century there were some successful Neo aspects in a number of Concertos for Harpsichord and Orchestra. I will not rehearse that list right now, except to mention such concertos by Poulenc, de Falla, Martinu, Frank Martin. Well now we gain another very viable approach to it all with Poul Ruders' 2020 work, out in a World Premier recording on Ours 9.70892, a digital release featuring Mahan Esfahani on harpsichord and the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra under Leif Segerstam.

This Ruders work gets a detailed reading with a careful Modern expressionist kind of flavor that one continuously feels seems at least very near-definitive, if not simply definitive.

There is so much dissonant complexity here and that juxtaposes nicely with a near Baroque momentum. The three movements have that Classical spelling by an andante in Movement Two and otherwise there is dramatic pacing throughout that wears well and continues to fascinate with repeated listenings. The harpsichord part is dense and virtuoso-like. The orchestra plays off the dissonant, dark animation with deliberate counterfoils nicely projecting and setting a wide aural-spatial set of parameters that seem just right for the present-day rough worldscape, the complexity of everyday pandemic, climatic and political strife that characterizes our current world.

It is a stubbornly, organically full work that like a particularly appealing Rorschach blot one might well find one reacts to perhaps according to your own personal musical psychology? If so all seems to invite listening-participation and appreciation over a lengthy listening lifetime potential. This is no quick aural snack. It is something to settle down with now and again as you need something of our time, perhaps something inspiring that you did not at first expect?

The composer informs us how by slightly amplifying the harpsichord vis-a-vis the orchestra he was able to match and contrast respective sonances and you can hear that as you mark out the sequences for yourself a number of times.

The music fits our era but not in just any old way--rather in an intensely personal view we recognize as poignant and transformative alike.

The work fits in with our recent Modern Neo-Classic possibilities but then follows Poul Ruders' very personal way to express it all, and as the author notes, without "slipping into a hackneyed Neoclassicism." Happily recommended for both compositional and performative excitement.

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