It doesnt happen too often that
a relatively unknown conductor leads one of our first class orchestras
with a programme of his own choice, consisting of totally unknown
repertoire. In late november Juha Kangas, founder and chief conductor
of the fabulous Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, made his debut
with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. They played too contempary
works from Finland Erkki Salmenhaaras Le bateau ivre
and Pehr Henrik Nordgrens Third Symphony and two works
by the German composer Günter Bialas (1907-1995), who was an
important teaching figure in Munich. In first performance an occasional
composition by Bialas, Walzer und Galopp, turned out to be a solid
and harmless exercise in francophile neoclassicism. Violist Helmut
Nicolai took the solo part in Bialass Trauermusik, a quite
substantial and introspective work. One can sense the seeds of romantic
feelings everywhere but Bialas never let them come out really. His
language bears a kind of shyness detached from the world.
Symphonically it has its references
to the worlds of suffering and inner strife as embraced in major
works by Mahler, Shostakovitch and Pettersson. But this work keeps
together even more centrifugal forces condensed to the extremely
short space of half an hour. The first movement, Lamentations, shakes
the boundless whole worlds lament with sheer terror. The magical
main theme of Nordgrens opera The Black Monk guides the listener
through the abysses of destruction. The second and fourth movements
are short piano interludes symbolizing real lifes loneliness
and functioning as neutral zones between the orchestral towerings.
In the third movement enigmatically named Choral Nordgren is on
his most personal track developping this kind of wonderous 'heteropolyphony'
working as a pool of seemingly independent individuals only connected
to each other by a kind of common destiny strangely enough
one gets the feeling this cannot work but finally it belongs together
as if happening by itself. The fifth movement, Defiance, is an extremely
aggressive and harsh quasi-passacaglia drowning its theme in ruthless
contradictions. It leads attacca into the final Epilogue. The conflict
between the inner world and real lifes terror rearises providing
a kind of ultimate battlefield. Having triumphed the dark forces
give way for an illusionarilly romantic, bitonal world including
the 'Terrorists Romance' from Nordgrens opera Alex,
which slightly becomes dragged into the extensive last enhancement.
Somewhere one can get the feeling that it is impossible to increase
further on but it goes on, and it works. It simply has to
end because of the limits of physical power, but, as the composer
says: "Sisyphos rolls on his stone
" The performance
under Kangass baton couldnt have been more idiomatic
and compact and all the three nights became an incredible public
success. Being quite neglected in his home country Nordgren (b.
1944) just has begun to become a cult figure in German music circles.
(Review for the music quarterly TEMPO, London 1997)