THORESEN Sea of Names, op. 47.
Stages of the Inner Dialogue, op. 9.2 With an Open Hand or a Clenched Fist?, op. 6.1 Solspill, op. 13.2 Invocations, op. 52: No. 3,Invocation of Crystal Waters.2 Interplay, op. 11 • 1Maiken Mathisen Schau (fl); 2Trond Schau (pn) • 2L 127 (SACD: 71:09)
Norwegian composer Lasse Thoresen (b. 1949), professor of music at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, has been influenced by a number of diverse streams that meet in his music: Pierre Schaeffer’s acoustic research, Eastern music and Norwegian folk music are perhaps primary amongst these. The conflation of Western and Eastern influences and a keen ear for sonority ensure Thoresen’s music is always memorable. There is surprisingly little of his work reviewed on the Fanfare Archive, although there is an alternative version of Solspill(which rather beautifully translates as “Sun Glitter,” or “Sun Play”) on a Simax disc reviewed in Fanfare 19:4.
The sheer beauty of the tinsel-delicate opening to Sea of Names (2012) sets the scene. It’s beautiful to experience, before long the flute is asked to use multiphonics (stunningly well done here by Maiken Mathisen Schau). The material for the work comes from the cadenza to Fartein Valens’s Violin Concerto. The title refers to the soul returning to its starting point after a corporeal existence, and indeed the sound picture is mostly otherworldly. Schau’s command of her instrument is breathtaking, while Trond Schau provides at times a sonic ocean of serenity over which the flute can fly.
Dating from much earlier (1981) and therefore prior to his chair at Oslo, Stages of the Inner Dialogue for solo piano is about communications with one’s inner self (a kind of “interior duologue,” to quote Boulez). The darker shades of the opening lead to a brighter piano entry that sounds like metal glinting in the sun, representing the inner self providing a solution to a problem being pondered by the conscious mind. Schau is superb here, elucidation the argument with a real sense of direction and yet dispatching the actual musical surfaces with a glistening touch.
It’s good to have Thoresen’s first work for solo flute here, too: With an Open Hand or a Clenched Fist?, (1976), a piece whose extended techniques include rhythmic stomping of the foot and singing through the flute. There is a real feeling of a light, dance element. It is one of the shorter pieces on the disc; Solspill of 1983, heard here in its 1986 revision, is music originally composed for a slide show by a local nature photographer. The 1986 version is this music presented as a concert piece for solo piano and it is here that Thoresen’s interest in Norwegian folk music comes to the fore; the technique used is to take that material and examine it in minuscule detail from a number of angles (analogous, in fact, to some photography techniques). The harmonies, incidentally, around the nine-minute mark are simply luminous.
Written for the 13th International Edvard Grieg Competition, “Invocation of Crystal Waters” (2011) is one of three Invocations (the other two are of “Pristine Light” and “Rising Air”). This one takes water as a symbol for internal cleansing, so its basis is not a million miles from Sea of Names in working with spiritual images of water. The Invocation is split into two parts, an “Aqualudium” (five parts in mobile form) followed by a blissfully playful and, dare I say, fluid “Aqua Fuga.”
Finally, there comes Interplay for flute and piano of 1981. Initially commissioned from Thoresen’s teacher, Finn Mortensen, the composition fell to Thoresen due to Mortensen’s ill health. The music Thoresen produced includes extremes of expression (making severe demands on the players), and at least initially treats the two players as separate instruments, with long solo passages for each and minimal direct interaction between the two. Pentatonicism oscillates with dissonance to create a varied soundscape; during the course of the piece the two instrumentalists go on a journey of various levels of interaction towards a virtuoso climax; the occasional wit is particularly relishable in this performance. Contemporary music need not be po-faced.
Bilingual (English/Norwegian) notes are first-rank. The SACD sound is impeccable: the venue was the Sofienberg Church in the Grünerløkka district of Oslo. The composer’s web site, lassethoresen.com, is a veritable mine of information and fully worthy of a mouse click or two. A fabulous, fascinating, not to mention sparkling, release. Colin Clarke
This article originally appeared in Issue 40:4 (Mar/Apr 2017) of Fanfare Magazine.