SWOBODA: Overture of the Season, Op. 89.
Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra, Op. 148. Symphony No. 1, Op. 20
Markus Leoson is a Swedish percussion soloist and ensemble player of tender (but undocumented) years who also plays the cymbalom and has been winning major prizes since 1995. He has already appeared on four CDs (including Christmas songs with Anne Sophie von Otter on DG), but “Markussion” is his first eponymous release on the Swedish label Nosag. He plays seven solo pieces, among them Morton Feldman’s The King of Denmark honoring the monarch who refused to kowtow to Nazi occupants of his nation during WW2. There’s a twelve- and-a-half minute mathematical piece (if that’s not being redundant) by the late Iannis Xenakis, Psyppha, that I never did get through, but an amusing solo work called Alarm – a thriller for percussion (“a kind of film music without pictures”) by the Dutch composer Poul Ruders, plus some briefer Scandinavian pieces. Maki Ishii’s Thirteen Drums echoes koto music (although he studied in Germany 50 years ago and has remained a dedicated serialist). But the prize on this disc turns out to be a 1995 concerto by Johan Hammerth (b. 1953)—the finest concerted work for solo percussionist and orchestra I’ve heard since Takemitsu’s Cassiopeia 33 years ago.
Hammerth’s ear is as refined as his sense of structure—in
this case a single-movement with three implicit sections. It begins with drum
but soon turns to delicate metal percussion on a soft orchestral cushion.
This builds, however, to a powerful climax before a bravura cadenza in which
soloist plays on vibraphone and bells with a bow. A slow section follows
with seven soft, tolling gongs that return near the end with startling impact
the music builds to an even more powerful climax before subsiding into silence.
Percussion soloists are basically audio-visual phenomena (the first such
of international caliber was a young Japanese, Stomu Yamash’ta, whose
public career lasted just a decade, 1969-79).Evelyn Glennie knows this, and
Markus Leoson, who is marvelously partnered in the Hammerth concerto by Heinrich
Schiff (yes, the cellist, another who could not resist the siren-lure of
the podium) leading the Swedish Radio Symphony. The recording of solo tracks
4-7 were produced by Orvig Hellebro in 2002, but the Feldman dates from 1994,
the Xennakis and the Concerto from 1997. The latter was produced by the Swedish
Radio’s Jan-Lennart Höglund with Rune Andreásson as engineer
and their achievement is wildly colorful.The solo pieces I may never listen
to again, but the concerto is a major work that exerts an ever-stronger pull
each time I hear it. Welcome Markus Leoson, welcome Johan Hammerth, and by
all means let us have more releases of this caliber from Nosag.