Roaring Rotterdam, Harmony…
All Music Guide 08-03-2009
Stephen Eddins

The music of Dutch composer Joep Franssens defies easy categorization. The individualist tendencies of his teacher Louis Andriessen are evident, as well as an embrace of the sounds of both American and eastern European minimalism, along with an unabashed lyrical impulse. Roaring Rotterdam (1997) is a highly attractive work for orchestra that has some of the throbbing, exuberant energy of the third movement of John Adam’s Harmonielehre, and Gerd Albrecht leads the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra in a performance of urgent conviction. Instead of using the traditional biblical text, Franssens’ Magnificat, for soprano, chorus, and orchestra, sets a fragment of a 1915 Portuguese poem by Fernando Pessoa that addresses the splendor of nature and the human relationship to it, but its title is apt. The tone is very much that of the best Magnificats – an elevated, serene affirmation of life, with moments of both intimacy and majesty. Franssens’ setting is an unfurling of a widening and deepening sense of wonder and awe that proceeds with unhurried ecstasy to a climax of breathtaking, elemental joy. It’s a work of daunting difficulty, and the Netherlands Radio Choir shows some strain by its ending, but aside from that caveat, Tonu Kaljuste’s performance, with the Choir and the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, is rhapsodic and beautifully paced. Kaljuste also conducts Harmony of the Spheres, Part 1, for a cappella chorus, featuring the Netherlands Chamber. Its radiant mood is similar to that of the Magnificat, but with a quieter, more subdued tone. The recordings were made at live performances, so there is some ancillary noise, and the sound doesn’t have ideal clarity and purity, but it’s never less than satisfactory and doesn’t distract the ear. The CD should be of strong interest to fans of new music in the post-minimalist vein.