1975, 1979, 1988, Music

Knussen: Symphonies Nos. 2-3, Trumpets, Ophelia Dances, Coursing, Cantata (1988) by Various

This is a compilation of a few of Knussen’s pieces, which, far as I can figure, are performed by three different ensembles, including an ensemble conducted by Knussen himself.

The third symphony is a both brief and bonkers. It’s so brief I’m not sure that it really qualifies as a symphony in a traditional sense, except that it’s a three movement work for orchestra.It’s a lively and fun piece full of inventive moments barely held together.

Trumpets is not a piece for trumpets. Instead it’s a piece for clarinets and voice. The clarinets don’t try to sound like trumpets, either, as far as my ears can tell. Instead they jump around manically.

I like the Ophelia Dances more. I’m not sure that anyone could dance to this very well, but if it’s meant to conjure Ophelia in her descent into madness, then it does a good job.

Coursing is one of those pieces where the title fits the music as well as you could imagine. Think of something “coursing” through your veins and you get an idea of what this music conjures. A brief but every effective piece.

The Cantata is so far from my idea of a cantata that I really don’t know how to think of it. Maybe I need to listen to more cantatas. As a piece of music, though, I like it as it has a mournful quality – does an oboe not always sound mournful? – and it feels more like an elegy in its introduction than anything else. A couple minutes in that changes to more of the energetic music we’re used to from Knussen. Still very much an elegy or requiem in my ears. I like this.

The second symphony won a prize, so I’m told. It doesn’t resemble symphonies I’m familiar with in many ways; in terms of its brevity, in terms of the vocal soloist. The music has lots of components I like but, as with the other symphony of Knussen’s I’ve heard. I’m not entirely sure how it all fits together. So I find myself enjoying it but wondering if, were I bigger snob, would I think less of it? I have no idea.

Even though it’s a compilation, I like the music enough to stop worrying about that. Knussen is pretty cool.


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