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December 1, 1999

Modern ComposersA Drummer's Tale -- episode two. Gert Sorensen plays Poul Ruders. Regime; Fingerprint I; Alarm; Fingerprint II; Cha Cha Cha; Fingerprint III; Towards the Precipice. (Dacapo, CD #8.224085) 1999.

Danish composer Poul Ruders (b. 1949) has been described as a "musical storyteller" whose goal in his works is to "seduce his audience with captivating tales in sound -- or as he puts it...thrillers for the ears, sounding novels." And the tales he tells are no bedtime stories; they are tales of "the garish, the grotesque, the spine-chilling, [and] the Gothic." Ruders' work includes two symphonies, several concerti, one opera (The Handmaid's Tale), a couple of smaller-scale vocal works, a variety of chamber works, and the works for percussion featured on this new CD from Dacapo.

As the title indicates, the present album is the second solo album by Danish percussionist Gert Sorensen, coming four years after "episode one" featuring compositions by Per Norgard. Sorensen not only performed the music of both albums, he did the editing and mixing as well. He sees all aspects of creating a studio recording as more-or-less equal parts of the creative process, involving traditional percussion instruments, computers, sampling keyboards, and the other electronic paraphernalia of the recording studio.

The seven pieces on the album consist of four "violent" percussion works, with three short "fingerprint" keyboard works interspersed as "small refreshing breathing-spaces" that "close the door to the preceding solo piece, and prepare the way for the next one." The compositions were written between 1981 (Cha Cha Cha) and 1998 (Fingerprints), and represent a wide variety of styles and moods. Describing the first work in the set, 1984's Regime, Ruders says "it is you, dear audience, who are put up against the wall, and the three percussionists are the executioners." Though it refers only to one of the works, this quote gives an idea of the tone of the whole set.

Towards the Precipice, from 1989, is a distillation -- what Ruders calls "a cutting-to-the- bone of the physique of the work" -- for solo percussion of a percussion concerto titled Monodrama. The composer says that the "soloistic nakedness emphasizes...the extramusical universe of the piece, its universal artistic goal. With Towards the Precipice I am suggesting the outer edge that all creativity should seek and on which it should finally move, the edge where there is a danger of falling down and destroying oneself."

Danger is indeed the dominant mood of this work -- from the something-lurking-in-the- dark tone of the opening moments to the run-faster-it's-catching-up terror of the late sections. Towards the Precipice accomplishes musically what the makers of The Blair Witch Project tried and failed to do cinematically -- create a setting for people to frighten themselves.

One other comment on this album: Sorensen's prologue to the entire collection reads, in its entirety, "To be played loud." So turn it up, close your eyes and give yourself up to the ride, but leave the lights on -- just in case.

You can hear Gert Sorensen perform Towards the Precipe by Poul Ruders on WHIL-FM (91.3) Thursday, December 2 at 7:00 PM as part of their weekly series of music from after 1950.

-- J. Green

The Harbinger