Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Excellent performances from Michala Petri (recorder) and Helen Davies (harp) with the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra under Henrik Vagn Christensen in attractive work that fuses classical, world and jazz in a new release from OUR Recordings

The Danish jazz trumpeter, composer, arranger and record producer Palle Mikkelborg (b.1941) www.mikkelborg.dk  started playing professionally in 1960, and has since been a dominant figure on the Danish and international progressive jazz scene.

He has more than a hundred published credits and has collaborated with such artists as Gil Evans, Terje Rypdal, Miles Davis, Jan Garbarek, Gary Peacock, Shankar and Done Cherry. In 2001 he was awarded the Nordic Council Music Prize.

In 2004 Mikkelborg was asked to write a major work for two soloists and string orchestra which resulted in the work on a new release on the OURRecordings label www.ourrecordings.com , Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart. The inspiration and title, Mikkelborg tells us, came from the title of a book by Mark Epstein Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart. This phrase summarised Mikkelborg’s own attempts, in this work, to embark on a spiritual journey touching on his meeting with musicians from many cultural spheres.

Originally written for harp, violin and string orchestra, the violin part was revised for recorder in 2012 for Michala Petri www.michalapetri.com  who performs on this disc together with Helen Davies (harp) www.helendavies.dk  and the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra www.sdjsymfoni.dk  under Henrik Vagn Christensen, as well as the composer playing trumpet.


Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart is in twelve sections or movements played without a break.

The Dawn Chorus opens this work with a slightly distanced ethereal sound of a solo recorder before the strings and harp arrive. This is a wonderful opening, very still and atmospheric and beautifully played by Michala Petri. Strings and harp create some wonderful sounds before the dawn arrives with the return of the recorder and the feel of awakening activity.

A calm melody for recorder and hovering strings introduces Morning Raga. The harp eventually enters to continue the calm melody. Sunrise appears with the recorder and shimmering strings before the recorder introduces a lively tune with harp accompaniment. Strings enter again to fill out the tune, which has something of a South American feel or certainly ethnic feel. The music calms as the recorder joins in a quieter melody with a repeated string motif behind it.

A playful little theme for recorder and harp leads into The African Girl. Strings join quietly as the recorder and harp die away but the recorder and harp return with little surges from the strings. At times the strings create an atmosphere of open spaces, before the music builds to a climax, then quietening for A Summer Nightfall where the harp plays gently to a string accompaniment. The recorder interrupts several times with a lovely tune, again slightly distanced. This is a terrific moment, very atmospheric, with ethereal strings, so hushed – fully evoking a summer night in a warm climate.

Chanting Monks opens with heavier strings slowly ruminating over a theme. The melancholy sounding recorder enters, followed by the harp before the strings build the melody with harp and recorder contributing lovely arabesques and flourishes. The music quietens and the solo harp plays, before the strings join, as does the recorder in a meditative section. Gentle Summer Rain has a descending motif before strange sounds appear, created by plucked strings giving an attractive sound of rain drops in quite an original way.

A bold recorder theme is soon taken up by the harp in A Spiritual Carousel, before the strings enter, imitating a version of the rising and falling motif as the music increases in dynamics and tempo in a kind of moto perpetuo. The music eventually leads to a playful theme shared between the recorder and solo violin with strings accompaniment. There is a violent surge from the strings before slowly quietening with the recorder and harp joining in a strange theme, conjuring up an ancient atmosphere with the feeling of ethnic pipes imitated by recorder. The moto perpetuo suddenly leaps in before the music quietens. 

The strange sounds of A Golden Mystery has the recorder providing ghostly sounds before being joined by the harp and strings in a more serene moment to which the recorder responds in a lovely movement. Both Michala Petri and Helen Davies give some terrific playing.

Strange harmonies in the strings open quietly in The Chinese Girl before a melody slowly emerges. The recorder suddenly enters with a flourish before the harp and strings continue this subtly oriental melody with further interruptions from the recorder. There is a lovely recorder part beautifully played by Petri. A solo section for harp with fine playing from Davies leads to Lullabies While the Adults are Talking. Murmuring voices are slowly joined by the solo recorder. The recorder and voices eventually give way to a string melody with the recorder occasionally joining in. Soon the murmuring voices return with the solo harp joining them and picking out a melody with some lovely flourishes. It is as though a child is dropping in and out of sleep. Helen Davies provides some particularly fine harp playing here. Eventually the strings, harp and recorder join together in drooping phrases leading to the final movement.

Shadow Waltz opens with the recorder taking up a theme to quietly swirling strings and harp accompaniment creating a kind of dreamlike waltz, ending quietly on a low harp note and recorder phrase.

Palle Mikkelborg states that he wished to include the sound of his trumpet in this journey using some of the themes and orchestrations. This resulted in Afterthoughts which opens with fragmented trumpet phrases entering against string sounds. Jazz like in their sound, it creates a strange yet compelling combination. The music fades before string chords heave slowly from the depths. The trumpet sounds a few fragmented notes whilst the strings appear almost imperceptibly providing strange sounds. The solo trumpet builds a lively melody before the strings alone make strange sounds again created by plucked strings. The trumpet again joins in jazz like short phrases whilst the strings create some ethereal sounds with drooping phrases and discords. The languid sound of the trumpet appears before giving an upwards flourish, leaving the strings alone to fade out.

Mikkelborg has created a real fusion of classical, world and jazz, not merely some kind of cross over. If musical boundaries are really to be broken then surely this attractive music shows at least one way to do it.

Performances from the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra under Henrik Vagn Christensen are excellent and there is superb playing from Michala Petri and Helen Davies and the composer himself playing the trumpet. These artists draw so much colour and atmosphere from this unusual music. The recording is excellent and there are informative booklet notes including a short essay from the composer.

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