Poul Ruders – Nightshade Trilogy

What started out as a simple chamber work has blossomed into a trilogy — and a remarkably cohesive one at that. Poul Ruders composed “Nightshade” for the 10-member chamber group Capricorn in 1987 (and it was released on Bridge Records in 1993).

A commission by a chamber orchestra prompted Ruders to compose “Second Nightshade” (1991), which expanded on the ideas of the first work. “Final Nightshade” (2003), a work for full orchestra, completed the trilogy begun 15 years before.

Although each work stands on its own merits, hearing them in sequence as a trilogy is revelatory. Overall, the “Nightshade Trilogy remind me somewhat of Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht,” with its pervading dark and sometimes unsettling mood.

As I listened to the trilogy, I heard threads connecting the parts. Each iteration heightens the intensity of expression, as Ruders adds more instruments to his sonic palette. Overall, the works create a mood of quiet unrest. “Final Nightshade” especially features long, sustained chords with melodic fragments that slowly unfold in their midst.

Though recorded in different venues by different producers over the course of a decade, the sound is remarkably consistent throughout the album. That consistency helps the listener hear the trilogy as a whole, rather than three discrete pieces.

Poul Ruders: Nightshade Trilogy
Nightshade, The Second Nightshade, Final Nightshade
Capricorn; Oliver Knussen, conductor
Odense Symphony Orchestra; Paul Mann, Scott Yoo, conductors
Bridge Records

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