WORKS: Solar Trilogy: Gong; Zenith; Corona
PERFORMER: Odense SO/Michael Schønwandt
CATALOGUE NO: 8.224054
Poul Ruders (b1949) embraces big, Romantic forms in an age suspicious of them, as Stephen Johnson’s sympathetic booklet notes point out. The three parts of his Solar Trilogy – composed between 1992 and 1995 – are viewed by their composer as ‘symphonic dramas, each depicting a specific feature of our nearest star and primal source of life on Earth: the Sun’. But while they suggest gestural as well as structural debts to, for example, Strauss and Nielsen, these late 20th-century symphonic poems revive the form with considerable individuality.
Gong depicts the Sun ‘behaving like a gong in a sandstorm’ with menacing, erupting dissonances, some obsessive repetition and extraordinary textural imagination. Zenith, in which the star’s trajectory becomes a metaphor for human striving, burns slowly, more triadically and, following a surprisingly short climax, rather too protractedly. Corona, celebrating the Sun’s ‘sizzling halo’, uses, among other devices, some almost minimalist repetition to energise another evasively developing scenario. The ending, though, is gloriously brief, with bursts of Janácek-like brass and an ambiguous final chord. Ruders’s dramas may not always be entirely convincingly sustained, but he’s certainly capable of writing large-scale music for large-scale forces with vivid imagination and unusual panache. Keith Potter