By Laurence Vittes | From the March-April 2021 issue of Strings magazine
Wilhelmina Smith’s recital of virtually unrecorded solo cello music by veteran Danish composers Per Nørgård (b. 1932) and Poul Ruders (b. 1949) could go into any 21st-century cellist’s performance repertoire. It is an impressive follow-up to her Ondine recording of Salonen and Saariaho.
Over the course of Nørgård’s three sonatas, the technical and musical challenges skyrocket in intensity and difficulty. While there is tangible heartbreak in the Solo intimo opening movement of No. 2, written in 1953, Nørgård’s language becomes more disjunctive and he throws in harmonics of fiendish difficulty. He reaches further in the second movement, Solo in scèna, written in 1980, lit by glorious glissandi, but no matter the language all three sonatas sound as if Nørgård had just sat down at his cello and played some magical unbroken stream of musical thought. Which makes Smith’s success in making music so precisely calculated sound as if it had been written that way all the more remarkable.
In Ruder’s Bravourstudien, written in 1976 for Morten Zeuthen, the affecting folk melody “L’homme armé” of Middle Ages fame runs through an Overture and nine variations with titles from music history that have such purely musical content that the composer feels compelled to remind us occasionally with a bravura flourish or an intoxicating run that they’re études too, including studies in double-stops and C-string textures and sonorities.
Judith Sherman produced the recording sessions at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, capturing Smith’s passionate virtuosity with achingly personal intimacy. Søren Schauser’s liner notes provide an excellent guide to the music’s compositional inner workings.
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