First a disclaimer - this disc was sent to me gratis in consideration for a review. This composer is new to me, as are all the soloists, and this CD appears on the Vanguard Music Boulevard, Malmo Sweden label.
I often have difficulty writing about new music. (I am a musician, not a writer; so I really have to work at it.) I usually find myself either liking it, or not. But, if it's something I initially find appealing, or at least interesting, I find I like it even more after several hearings. Such was the case with this program.
I began my listening with what I anticipated being an "easy listen", Autumn Fields - a 7-minute piece for solo cello and orchestra. No, it isn't easy, and it was instantly engaging. It is a passionate, expressive, fervent work. And I knew right away Ms. Laurin was the "real deal", with a marvelous talent for singing lines and colorful orchestration. What makes this piece especially appealing, is the glorious, rhapsodic playing of it by cellist, Amalie Stalheim. I immediately listened to this work again, and enjoyed it even more.
The main work which begins this program, Concerto in Memoriam, is a massive trumpet concerto, which, the booklet tells us, is dedicated to Ms. Laurin's mother, who passed away in 2012 after a long illness. And what a tribute it is. The fine booklet notes also tell us this piece was commissioned by Camerata Nordica, with whom Ms. Laurin was Composer in Residence. It was originally written for trumpet and strings, and more recently arranged for full orchestra.
I needed to listen to this work several times before fully appreciating its lengthy 27 minutes. It is structured in 3 named movements, described by the composer thusly:
"Concerto's three movements "illustrate" life in three phases.
I. Become. The creation of life itself like a vibration from space entering our atmosphere and in the end crawling like a clumsy dinosaur up on land. Life has started.
II. Be. A celebration, in many shapes, of life itself. With joy and sorrows, and the time signature putting the pulse faster and faster, and then back again.
III. Became. The end of life. The mourning and the reentering of the soul to the space in the very end, when the same "vibration" comes back in the music, after the the trumpet has descended - accepted."
And what I hear is really very close to these descriptions.
Become predictably displays outbursts of anger and despair in the opening bars. But they are soon transformed into a plaintive, soaring trumpet aria, with a pervading sense of expectancy and longing.
Be follows without pause, with a change in mood, with its rhythmic celebration of life. (I'd love to see the score; I can't quite make out the complex-sounding time-signature.) But this performance of it positively dances, with the trumpet, again, singing a distinctly Anna-Lena Laurin song.
Became is a bit more difficult, the song now depicting the mourning described by the composer. But it finishes with a masterstroke of orchestration which depicts the "reentering of the soul to space" with string harmonic glissandi and what sounds like the trumpet soloist blowing non-musical air through his instrument. It is indeed as if transporting the listener through the winds of endless space. I found this final movement a tad overlong and less inspired than the rest, but loved how it ends, bringing the work to a satisfying close.
This is a work of substance and great musical interest, and I would anticipate many trumpet players being drawn to it. It reveals subtle elements of Ms. Laurin's jazz influence, adding to its unique and attractive flavoring. I'm especially glad Ms. Laurin re-orchestrated it for full orchestra; her utilization of mallet percussion is skillfully accomplished and deliciously titillating all through. (There is a YouTube video of excerpts from a performance of the original version, for trumpet and strings, which is definitely worth exploring.)
As in the cello work, this piece benefits greatly from the marvelous playing of the soloist on this recording - in this case, trumpeter Gustav Melander. It is a difficult and demanding work (its nearly 30-minute length alone requires great stamina), and Mr. Melander takes it in stride with accomplished virtuosity and musically expressive playing. There is nowhere for the soloist to hide anything short of immaculate control and beauty of tone. And this fine player delivers both with a lovely, singing legato and impressive breath support.
If I hear hints of John Adams in some of Ms. Laurin's writing (which is very much a compliment), she certainly exhibits a distinct voice. And, in the final two works on the program, her jazz influence makes a stronger presence, to great effect. I was surprised and pleased to discover both sound positively cinematic! Her gift for orchestration is elevated as well, with the subtle use of percussion (mallets, again) and the colorful use of a large wind compliment. Further, in Fountain of Youth, a very film noir-ish muted trumpet is featured, along with a sultry, smoky mezzo (scat-style, sans lyrics), and a distant wordless choir adding to the atmosphere. (I read in the booklet this piece was actually composed by the featured trumpeter, Anders Bergcrantz, and magnificently arranged for orchestra by Ms. Laurin.) And in Song of the Juniper, delightful solo violin passages provide refreshing light and shade contrasts. There is less seriousness here, and these works are reminiscent of some of the best classic film scores from the masters, pre-Williams, each in differing ways. Marvelous!
All in all, this is a significant release of new orchestral music, which is a major achievement for this talented composer. Three different Symphony Orchestras and conductors are utilized - Malmo/Paul Magi (tracks 1-4), Norrlandsoperan/Ingar Bergby (tr. 5) and Gothenburg/Joana Carneiro (tr. 6). Remarkably, the quality of playing and recorded sound is consistently excellent all through. The entire production is outstanding, with well-written and informative liner notes, pictures of the soloists, and detailed recording information. Highly recommended for the musically adventurous.