Nørgård: Symphony No. 6 (At the End of the Day); Terrains vagues

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 6 (At the End of the Day); Terrains vagues
PERFORMER: Danish National RSO/Thomas Dausgaard
Sample any ten seconds of Per Nørgård’s Sixth Symphony at random and you might conclude that you’re listening to a piece of dense, astringent, old-fashioned modern music. Listen as you’re meant to – from first to last bar – and a very different picture emerges. There is always a powerful current, whether slow and eddying or closer to white water rafting. And however much the textures may teem with detail, the development of the leading motifs and the interweaving of contrasting lines is easy to follow – thanks partly to Nørgård’s wonderfully vivid scoring, and also to the sheer energy of the writing. For all that he has learned from late 20th-century modernism, Nørgård remains at heart a compelling symphonic story-teller, like his youthful idol Sibelius. This is music that can be dazzlingly sophisticated without losing an essential childlike directness. The almost-contemporary Terrains vagues begins with the blurred heavy tread heard in the closing pages of the Sixth Symphony, but as a musical experience it inhabits another world. While the symphony is a voyage of discovery, Terrains vagues circles the same sounds and ideas obsessively. The perspectives may change, but in a sense it remains rooted to the ground. The effect of hearing these two works is not unlike following Sibelius’s magnificently evolving Seventh Symphony with the static, brooding tone poem Tapiola he wrote soon afterwards. Performances are full of life and sharp clarity, and the recordings serve them admirably. Strongly recommended. Stephen Johnson