Thursday, March 09, 2017

Poul Ruders' Fiery Fifth

In one sense, this release of Poul Ruder's Fifth Symphony isn't much of a bargain. The entire album clocks in at 26:30, far below the average of 72 minutes for a classical release. But folks who shop by cost per second of playing time aren't the audience for this music, anyway.

Rather, this release is for listeners who values quality over quantity. They'll appreciate this Bridge Records offering.

Poul Ruders almost gave his three-movement symphony the subtitle "Ring of Fire." Like the famous Pacific ring, the calm middle (representing the ocean), is bounded by two explosive movements of orchestral pyrotechnics (like the volcanoes surrounding the Pacific). While this isn't a programmatic work, the analogy fairly describes the form of the work.

The opening fanfare originally came from Ruder's 2011 "Sonatas," but here it's been substantially reworked and gets extensively developed. Ruders is an innovative orchestrator, and while the movement crackles with drama, it does so with small groupings of instruments rather than hammering away at the listener with the full weight of the orchestra.

The serene second movement is a study in suspended sound. Souring, delicate melodies float above a thinly orchestrated background. The abbreviated finale comes crashing in, disrupting the calm with a return of the storm. And yet the work doesn't end in a cataclysm. Rather, the music seems to break apart, losing bits of energy and force before simply... stopping.

When I heard the finale, I understood why Bridge Records chose to release this symphony without any "filler." Any additional music would dilute the force of the ending, and perhaps the work as a whole. This is a symphony that needs to be heard on its own terms, without additional context.

And, yes, I think it's well worth the price.

Poul Ruders: Symphony No. 5
Odense Symphony Orchestra; Olari Elis, conductor
Bridge Records

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