CDÕen ŅOrchestral WorksÓ (udgivet p dacapo open space)
Symfoni nr. 1 ŅD¾monernes DansÓ
Hymne til Isdronningen (Hymn to the Ice Queen) – koncert for cello og orkester
At the Yellow EmperorÕs Time (arie fra I-K-O-N for sopran og orkester)
ŅJohn Frandsen (b. 1956) clearly is a talented composer with an enjoyable personal idiom. The orchestral music here is strongly gestural (the recurring use of chimes in the first movement of the symphony, for example), but with an equal fund of long, lyrical lines that often sound quite ravishing. His love of Romantic melody combined with a thoroughly contemporary view of structure and sonority makes for very satisfying listening, on the whole. The First Symphony is particularly successful both as a whole and in its parts, and the string-and-harp-based central Adagio makes an especially strong impression. It's also beautifully played by the Odense Symphony Orchestra under Christian Eggen.
At the Yellow Emperor's Time, an aria for soprano and orchestra taken from the opera I-K-O-N (2003), is also marvelous--hauntingly folk-like and timeless. Djina Mai-Mai sings it sweetly in English, though the words aren't easy to make out and the text is not included with the slim-line packaging. The Amalie Suite, 10 brief minutes for chamber ensemble, offers the same textural mix as the symphony, while the Cello Concerto "Hymn to the Ice Queen" shows Frandsen's willingness to let the instrument sing and also displays his inventive ear for orchestral sonority (though the overall impression remains a touch static). Svend Winslov plays neatly, but with a small tone that has a difficult time standing out against the often kaleidoscopic scoring. Still, if good contemporary music interests you, Frandsen certainly is someone worth getting to know. The excellent engineering is up to Dacapo's usual high standards.Ó
(David Hurwitz, p www.classicstoday.com)
ŅWriting something for orchestra these days is a tricky thing to do. Listeners of any stripe carry an immense bag of associations for anything using a string section, particularly if it includes a singable line and a few triads. If it doesnÕt sound like a Mahler symphony, it sounds like something by Stravinsky, or maybe Prokofiev, or perhaps a Wagner overture. It might even sound like John Williams. Avoiding sounding derivative is quite a feat. John Frandsen, despite his penchant for melody, has managed to pull it off. It doesnÕt happen immediately on Orchestral Works, his latest CD, but it does, quite beautifully, happen.
The CD opens with the three movements of the Danish composerÕs first and only symphony thus far, entitled ŅThe Dance of the DemonsÓ and written between 1986 and 1988. FrandsenÕs technical facility is readily apparent in these pieces. Some nice part writing and skillful timbral blending, particularly with percussion, produce some wonderful gestures, but Frandsen falls into the orchestral pit-trap. The symphonyÕs gestures evoke other composers, Mahler and Stravinsky primarily, rather than coalescing. The listener is left feeling directionless, and the music is left sounding anti-climactic.
Fortunately, Frandsen remedies the stylistic vertigo in ŅAt the Yellow EmperorÕs Time,Ó an aria from his 2003 opera I-K-O-N. The voice of soprano Djina Mai-Mai gives the composer a chance to flex his melodic muscle with extremely satisfying results. A nicely unsettled texture emerges in the orchestra before the soprano is allowed to enter with a melody thatÕs repetitive, but builds nicely. Mai-Mai delivers the memorable melody nicely, maintaining a direct, focused vibrato. The arch of the line drives the piece and allows the orchestra freedom to wander around Mai-MaiÕs voice.
The next work of the CD, the ŅAmalie Suite,Ó dates from just before the symphony. It comes from FrandsenÕs first opera, which he wrote in 1985. Despite its chronological proximity to the symphony, this piece avoids the faults of FrandsenÕs symphony. Perhaps because of the pieceÕs smaller ensemble (decet with percussion) or shorter length, here FrandsenÕs skills with texture do manage to unify the piece. The suite proves quite suspenseful. Brief suggestions of resolution that are quickly pulled back into the disquiet heighten the effect.
The CDÕs real triumph, though, comes with the final piece, FrandsenÕs ŅHymn to the Ice Queen,Ó a concerto for cello and orchestra from 1998. From the opening orchestral phrases, itÕs clear that for this piece Frandsen has chosen to invoke the Romantic tradition (predominantly the late Romantic). As the work begins, the strings suggest a fragile tranquility, and the entrances of other instruments confirm the feeling. A slow crescendo brings the mood to a head, and signals the entrance of the cellist, Svend Winslæv. The interaction between the cello and the orchestra throughout the piece is striking, and Frandsen makes full use of the celloÕs range and timbre. As in ŅAt the Yellow EmperorÕs Time,Ó the use of a dominant voice unleashes FrandsenÕs melodicism. The melodic lines for both the solo cello and the orchestra are often rich and chocolaty, though Frandsen provides plenty of contrast to avoid sugariness that often accompanies references to the Romantic.
Overall, Orchestral Works displays FrandsenÕs compositional and orchestrational skills clearly. His gift for melody and his effective use of the instruments of the orchestra are obvious. What's more, the strength of the most recent works suggests that Frandsen is already, despite the obstacles, well on the road to developing a unique and identifiable orchestral style using his talents. For this reason alone, Orchestral Works is well worth a listen.Ó
(Lanier Sammons, p www.sequenza.com)
Der er to helte p denne udgivelse: Komponisten og dirigenten (É) Det er en gedigen overraskelse at mæde John Frandsen som en fuldbren symfoniker i de fire v¾rker p cdÕen, for det er normalt ikke p dette felt, han udfolder sig. Jeg blev is¾r indfanget af 1. Symfoni, D¾monernes Dans, komponeret i 1986-88. Her hærer man en velgærende bekendelse til fortidens musikalske landskaber, for der er spundet romantiske trde gennem de tre satser, men disse stemninger spejles vedvarende i Frandsens eget sind og temperament. Det er billedrig musik, raffineret instrumenteret, vegeterende, pulserende, kontrastrig og bidende, og det hele kalder p suver¾ne tekniske ressourcer i orkesteret.
(Valdemar Lænsted, DR-magasinet ŅKlassiskÓ)
Det gode Mahler-syndrom.
Han er kvik, ham John Frandsen. Kvik nok til at v¾re formand for Dansk Komponistforening. Kvik nok til at tale kollegernes sag her og der og alle vegne. Uden ham ville dansk kulturliv v¾re meget fattigere - ogs helt bogstaveligt. Men samtidig er det lidt en skam. For det kan ikke v¾re mange noder, han fr skrevet om dagen. Og formand Frandsens noder har ellers altid v¾ret smukkere end de flestes. Hvor man dog savner nogle flere v¾rker fra hans hnd! P skiven her kan man hære fire eksempler p hans orkestermusik fra de sidste tyve r. Stilen sp¾nder fra meget Gustav Mahler til lidt Gustav Mahler - mske endda ovre i den tidlige Alban Berg. Alligevel lyder den ikke spor eklektisk, som det hedder i fagsproget. Ikke spor ekkoagtig. Tv¾rtimod nr han utrolig langt med diskrete stemninger og en masse stilhed. Pladen er simpelthen et hit for alle romantikere med hjerne. Et ualmindelig vellykket eksempel p dacapos nyeste satsning, ČOpen SpaceĒ.
(Særen H. Schauser, Berlingske Tidende)