Ruders: The Christmas Gospel; Violin Concerto No. 1; Etude and Ricercare; The Bells

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Ruders
LABELS: Bridge
WORKS: The Christmas Gospel; Violin Concerto No. 1; Etude and Ricercare; The Bells
PERFORMER: Rolf Schulte (violin), David Starobin (guitar), Lucy Shelton (soprano)Riverside Symphony/George Rothman, Speculum Musicae/David Starobin, Malmö SO/Ola Rudner
CATALOGUE NO: BCD 9057 DDD
Hardly a seasonal offering. Only the final ten minutes of this disc are devoted to The Christmas Gospel, surprisingly, Poul Ruders’s first attempt at film music. The story of the birth of Christ seems to have been told rather breathlessly in the Danish director Trine Vester’s silent film for television: the Immaculate Conception gets just seven seconds – though I suppose that’s longer than the real thing took, come to think of it. I don’t see much point in committing to disc incidental music which relies so heavily on its context.

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A fair amount of Ruders’s large output is now available on record. I’ve always reckoned him very uneven, and nothing here comes up to the standard of Four Compositions, say, or Manhattan Abstraction. The Violin Concerto (1981) fails to make anything stimulating out of its borrowings from The Four Seasons. All the other works, including The Christmas Gospel, are recent. Etude and Ricercare for guitar shows how dry he can be, however clever his technique. And while The Bells, for soprano and ensemble, is more compelling in its typically perplexing combination of subtlety and brashness, the more than occasional obviousness of Ruders’s response to Poe’s text is alarming in a composer with his current reputation. Keith Potter