Oliver Knussen

Oliver Knussen: Autumnal

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In a career spanning decades, Oliver Knussen has become internationally famous as a conductor, though he is considerably less familiar to audiences as a composer, which was his first musical occupation. Yet despite composing steadily since childhood, Knussen has produced a comparatively small body of work, apparently because he is constrained by his meticulous craftsmanship and self-critical ear, as well as by a hectic conducting schedule. As a result of his small output and selectivity, and in no small part because of the changing instrumentation, this NMC album has the feeling of an ad hoc compilation, recorded by various artists in different settings and times. Knussen himself conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in three of the essential performances, the Choral (1970-1972), the Violin Concerto (2002), and Requiem -- Songs for Sue (2005-2006), and also provided the informative liner notes, so that helps hold the package together. Even so, the interspersing of keyboard music, chamber pieces, and songs gives the album a loose presentation, and listeners who are just getting acquainted with Knussen might find it a little scattered. The key to appreciating this CD and Knussen's music as a whole is to listen for his inventive sonorities and timbres, for much of his music is quite atmospheric and lovely, despite the use of dense textures and dissonances. Knussen's years at the podium have taught him how to make instruments sound extraordinary, and his handling of tone colors makes him one of the easiest of modernists to approach.

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