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Ole-Henrik Moe - Ciaccona / 3 Persephone Perceptions

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Artist: Ole-Henrik Moe

Album: Ciaccona / 3 Persephone Perceptions

Label: Rune Grammofon

Review date: Jul. 9, 2008

Conventional wisdom says that modern compositional language is dissonant and thus abstract. I would posit that composers of the last one hundred years have engaged more deeply and investigated more thoroughly the physical properties of sounds than composers of previous generations. The Norwegian Ole-Henrik Moe is among these, a composer who places physical presence of sound on equal footing with structural innovation. On this double-disc set, Moe presents two pieces for solo violin that look at the language of noise from a fresh perspective, championing acoustic, low-volume events over loud, electronic ones.

Too jagged, relentless and feral to be comfortably called minimalist, Ciaccona and 3 Persephone Perceptions seem to abandon tonality almost completely in favor of intense textural and dynamic experiments. These pieces present a challenging experience not due to structural complexities, but rather because they are so immediately physical, consisting as they do of marathon stretches of polyphonic bowing and unsettling moments of near-silence.

At first, it sounds as if violinist Kari Rønnekleiv is furiously bowing and scraping, but she brings articulation and precision to these pieces, contrasting the muted legato gestures with the scabrous bowing. Attack these pieces with too much gusto, and their intricate detail might evaporate because, for all their prickliness, they are delicate.

Of the two works, the 14 variations of “Ciaccona” are the more successful. The first 13 variations, ranging in length from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, work cumulatively, sensitizing the listener to different details and preparing one for the harmonic sparks of the 13-minute final movement. Rønnekleiv moves confidently through each variation, interpreting the incremental textural, technique and dynamic changes with investigative focus. In the final movement, however, all the built-up tension explodes. As the volume spikes, the textures get denser, the voices multiply into a visceral cacophony of looping intensity. Over its duration, Ciaccona builds a slow and subtle magic, something like the trance-inducing effect of minimalism, but without that approach’s sanitizing mechanistic motor, clean lines and clear design.

Unfortunately, 3 Persephone Perceptions cannot match the impact. More about duration and volume fluctuation than variation, the work is divided into three longer parts, ranging in length from 6 minutes to 23 minutes. The first movement begins with some interesting perpetual-motion figures in the higher registers, but as the second movement wears on, it starts to get monotonous at the higher volumes, and its occasional disappearances into inaudibility seem a bit of an easy dynamic trick. This piece lacks the cumulative momentum and variation of Ciaccona and eventually sags under its own weight.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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