Classical CD Reviews

POUL RUDERS: ‘Music of Poul Ruders, Vol. 8‘ = POUL RUDERS – Offred Suite (from the opera, The Handmaid’s Tale), Tundra (Hommage á Jean Sibelius), Symphony No. 3, ‘Dreamcatcher’ – Susanna Phillips, sop./Odense Sym. Orch./Scott Yoo – Bridge

Another interesting addition to an important series.

Published on October 2, 2012

POUL RUDERS: ‘Music of Poul Ruders, Vol. 8‘ = POUL RUDERS – Offred Suite (from the opera, The Handmaid’s Tale), Tundra (Hommage á Jean Sibelius), Symphony No. 3, ‘Dreamcatcher’ – Susanna Phillips, sop./Odense Sym. Orch./Scott Yoo – Bridge

POUL RUDERS: ‘Music of Poul Ruders, Vol. 8‘ = POUL RUDERS – Offred Suite (Arias, Interludes and Postlude from the opera, The Handmaid’s Tale), Tundra (Hommage á Jean Sibelius), Symphony No. 3, ‘Dreamcatcher’ – Susanna Phillips, sop./Odense Sym. Orch./Scott Yoo – Bridge Records 9382, 51:48 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Bridge Records continues its significant series of works of the music Poul Ruders with this eighth volume. This release also continues what has been a revealing exploration of the Danish composer’s music and shows him to be fascinating composer with appreciable skills at orchestration and whose work cannot be easily typecast or cubby-holed.

This collection certainly opens in an interesting way with Ruders’ Offred Suite; a collection of “arias, interludes and postlude” from his 1997 opera, The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the 1985 “speculative fiction” novel by Canadian Margaret Atwood. The work takes place in an imagined future world in which women are treated very disrespectfully, denied of rights and serving, essentially, as slaves to men. The title of this suite takes its name from that one of the principal characters, Offred, so named because, in this dark unwelcoming future, Offred must serve as the sexual slave of a military commander, Fred; for his own wife cannot bear children. The story draws many parallels between the treatment of fertile women versus infertile women and some real life instances of what Atwood considered inhumanity; such as that experienced by Native Americans. The music is characteristically dark, brooding and tense but very well crafted. Just the small sampling that this suite provides makes one want to hear and see the whole opera, with a libretto by Paul Bentley, last performed in Toronto in 2004. Soprano Susanna Phillips carries a trapped, desperate but rebellious tone throughout the text and the piece bears weight and captures the attention well.

Tundra (Hommage á Jean Sibelius) is a short gossamer work comprised of some dramatic dissonances and high evocative string writing that effectively capture the icy, frozen, barren landscapes of the tundra. There are some brief melodic and harmonic allusions to the music of Sibelius (a prominent horn call, for example) but the work evokes the world of the Finnish master; not his music directly. I found it to be a fascinating and moody work that – at barely over five minutes in duration – ended too soon for my tastes; I wanted to hear more.

Ruders’ Symphony No. 3, ‘Dreamcatcher’ is another pleasant surprise. This highly dramatic and relatively compact work exists in two movements and provides drama and tension from the outset. The subtitle refers to the actual Ojibwa shamanic device used to “catch” bad dreams so that the person sleeping under it can rest undisturbed by unpleasant imagery. In Ruders’ imagining, the analogy refers to a “tale of beauty being devoured by the beast.”  The symphony begins in arresting fashion, with strident chords and loud utterances that give way to much more peaceful, tonal, quiet string writing. The writing becomes gradually more dissonant and harsh while the “dreamy” melodies in the high strings try to retain prominence. The battle between light and dark, good and evil, beauty and disharmony continues over the two movements (purposefully retaining the symmetry and dichotomy) until the second movement ends with a very strange and unsettling combination of timbres produced by low brass, bass clarinet and the Chinese bowed cymbal, the “lion’s roar.”  This is one of the most unusual symphonies I have heard but is very rewarding. Ruders has a gift for writing very emotional and “moody” music that holds the attention, as this certainly does.

I have reviewed other volumes in this impressive series and find each one even more interesting. Poul Ruders remains, for most people, a most interesting, and somewhat eccentric, figure in modern music. I love the somewhat unpredictable nature of his music. In this collection, I most enjoyed the Symphony No. 3 but liked each of these works. This recording is also at the usual high Bridge standards. The Odense Symphony under Scott Yoo performs marvelously and merits your listening. What a great series this has turned out to be.

—Daniel Coombs




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