Poul Ruders avoids categorizations in Volume 15

What I like best about Poul Ruders is that he’s his own man. Ruders picks and chooses from all the various contemporary compositional trends.

He mixes and matches them, all in service of the idea he wants to express. And Ruders makes it all sound not only cohesive but logical — as if it simply couldn’t be any other way.

This release features three important works; Ruders’ third piano concerto, a work for orchestra, and a work for dual keyboards.

Ruders is far from the first composer to write a set of variations on a theme by Paganini. His 2014 Piano Concerto No. 3. Ruders deconstructs the theme in a variety of ways. But no matter how small the fragments, the music retains its cohesiveness. Most theme and variations works seem to continually stop and start as one variation ends and another begins.

avoids that by making the variations fluid and (if I’m hearing correctly), overlapping. The works have the forward motion and energy of a concerto. The music seems to keep moving, building to extended climaxes. Anne-Marie McDermot performs with exceptional precision and verve. Her phrasing brings out relationships between the sections.

Poul Ruder’s Cembal d’Amore references the past on several levels. The title refers to a Baroque instrument that had double sets of strings. Ruder’s work also features a double set of strings — one in a harpsichord and the other in a piano.

The music itself also references the Baroque. But Ruder’s isn’t bound by the past. This work mixes neo-classical elements in with contemporary tonal (and sometimes non-tonal) ideas to create a heady little dance suite that could exist in no other time. The piano duo Quattro Mani brings this music to life. I was especially impressed at how balanced the sound was between the two instruments. A concert grand piano can easily overwhelm a harpsichord. Not so here. The two instruments sounded like equals. And that takes a lot of skill.

The Kafkapriccio is an orchestral suite from Ruder’s opera “Kafka’s Trial.” Kafka held a distorted lens up to society. It’s fitting that this music do the same. Ruder takes familiar musical tropes from the circus and stage and creates something new and fresh. And as unsettled as Kafka’s characters. The Odense Symphony Orchestra, directed by Andreas Delfs keeps the energy level high. They also manage to inject an element of sarcasm and irony into the score that just makes it even better.

Poul Ruders Edition: volume 15
Piano Concerto No. 3, “Paganini Variations”
Cembal d’Amore, Second Book
Anne-Marie McDermott; Quattro Mani; Odensesymfoniorkester; Benjamin Schwartz, Andreas Delfs, conductors
Bridge Records 9531


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