Sunday 19 January 2014

Works for recorder, harpsichord and percussion by Axel Borup-Jørgensen on an attractive release from OUR Recordings

Axel Borup-Jørgensen (1924-2012) was born in Denmark but grew up in Sweden. He studied piano at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and orchestration with Poul Schierbeck and Jorgen Jersild. He was one of the first Danish composers to attend Darmstadt school, but he has never composed serial music.

Axel Borup-Jørgensen's music is characterized by his Swedish upbringing, and among his works feature Swedish poetry and the Swedish landscape. His large output of compositions includes music for orchestra, chamber music, songs with piano and other instruments. Prominent amongst his works are compositions for percussion and guitar. Axel Borup-Jørgensen was a seminal figure in contemporary Danish musical life and the recipient of a number of the country’s most distinguished awards, including the Carl Nielsen Prize and the Wilhelm Hansen Prize. 

He considered himself a self-taught composer; while being thoroughly ‘modern’ in outlook; his music is organic, expressionist, always embracing the sheer sensual beauty of the musical tone.

A new release from OUR Recordings presents Borup-Jørgensen’s complete works for recorder; a chronicle of a thirty year relationship that began when his daughter, Elisabet Selin became Michala Petri’s first and only private student. This recording is unique in that the artists featured, Michala Petri  and Elisabet  Selin (recorders), Ingrid Myrhoj (harpsichord) and Gert Mortensen (percussion) are those for whom these works were originally composed, their interpretations, therefore being both personal and authoritative.


Drum rolls open Periphrasis, Op.156 (1977, rev. 1993-94) for recorder and percussion behind which the low sound of a recorder hovers. Other percussion adds to the texture before the recorder plays a staccato theme that jumps around, high in the register. As the recorder dances around the percussion, various textures and colours are created. Despite the outwardly fragmented sounds, the recorder maintains an underlying melodic line that is most attractive. Later the music slows in a delicate passage with quiet thoughtful phrases leading to a hushed end. Overall this is a real musical achievement, wonderfully played by for Michala Petri and Gert Mortensen.

Nachtstuck, Op. 118:1 (1987) for tenor recorder opens with what sounds like light drum taps but which are actually recorder sounds made by an unusual technique. The recorder tentatively introduces a theme, quiet and mournful, with little upward phrases and more, odd breathing effects from the recorder that sound like snare drum.  More textures are drawn from the recorder in this challenging example of recorder technique brilliantly realised by Elisabet Selin. Louder phrases appear, darting around before strange dissonant multitones conjure up a nightmarish nocturnal atmosphere as the music slowly find its way to a quiet coda.

Architraves, Op.83 (1977) for sopranino recorder solo brings a joyful motif that dances around. Axel Borup-Jørgensen has a way of creating a kind of lyricism from seemingly abstract, even fragmented ideas. Michala Petri is terrific here, with fine precision in the sharp staccato notes that often seem to imitate bird sounds. A terrific work.

There is a vibrant opening for recorder and harpsichord in Zwiegespräch, Op. 131 (1988-89) for sopranino recorder and harpsichord with Borup-Jørgensen again drawing a lyrical line from fragmented motifs and varied intervals. It is strange how well these instruments sound together, taking our perception of them as baroque instruments and creating a modern language for them. Both have a kind of dialogue, the harpsichord with short, clipped phrases and the recorder more melodic and flowing. There is much fine playing from Elisabet Selin and Ingrid Myrhøj.

Bird song again appears in Birds Concert, Op.91:9 (1995) for descant recorder solo, but it is longer drawn phrases that open the work, before little bird like motifs appear. The longer phrases return but are slowly overtaken by the bird trills in this wonderfully effective piece so well played by Michala Petri, for whom it was written.

Elisabet Selin and Ingrid Myrhøj return for the Fantasia, Op.75 (1975, rev. 1986-88) for sopranino recorder and harpsichord. The sopranino recorder maintains a melodic line over the fragmented chords of the harpsichord and, as the work progresses, the harpsichord develops intricate, ever changing sounds whilst the recorder continues its melodic flow with some wonderfully fluent playing from Selin. Towards the end, the recorder holds an incredibly long note against the harpsichord before weaving its way to the coda.

The mellow sound of the treble recorder comes as a contrast in Pergolato, Op.183 (2011) for treble recorder solo with Michala Petri playing a mellifluous melody. There are no unusual recorder techniques here, the recorder really sings in Petri’s hands. Repeated melodic phrases do not outstay their welcome as the music flows to its gentle coda.

Birdsong again seems to immerse itself into Notenbüchlein, Op.82 (1977-79) for descant recorder solo. It is hard not to become immersed oneself in this attractive music where Borup-Jørgensen’s playful little bird trills are so lovely. A beautifully written piece, exquisitely played by Elisabet Selin.

This attractive and worthwhile release is an excellent memorial to Axel Borup-Jørgensen and his exploration of the recorder. Well recorded on various dates and at various venues, there are informative booklet notes by the composer and Jens Brincker. 

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