Petr Eben: Landscapes of Patmos; Triptychon; Okna; etc.

Halgeir Schiager

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Petr Eben: Landscapes of Patmos; Triptychon; Okna; etc. Review

by Blair Sanderson

Much as the Baroque age culminated in the magisterial organ works of J.S. Bach, Petr Eben's organ music seems -- albeit in a more modest way -- to be a summation of the modernist era, so thorough is the composer's absorption of twentieth century techniques, expressions, and styles. This Czech master's extremely varied oeuvre embraces nearly all styles and genres, but his original music for his own instrument takes pride of place in his catalog, along with numerous works in combination with other players. Of the latter, Landscapes of Patmos for organ and percussion (1984) is an ambitious work in five movements that symbolically depicts images from the Book of Revelations in angular gestures, violent rhythms, and darkly hued timbres. Organist Halgeir Schiager and percussionist Eirik Raude present ,Landscapes with appropriate apocalyptic power and dramatic spatial effects, most compelling in the last tableau, Landscape with Horses, where the virtuosic activity between organ, drums and bells is enthralling. Okna for trumpet and organ (1976) features trumpeter Jan Fredrik Christiansen with Schiager in four vignettes representing stained glass windows. While this work is considerably less theatrical than the first offering, and functions more like an abstract sonata da chiesa than a tone poem, it is nonetheless an emotionally gripping and intellectually stimulating work. The solo pieces -- Campanae gloriosae (1999), Prelude I, and Gloria (both 2000) -- are somewhat less dazzling in their content, and mostly resemble Gebrauchsmusik in their dutiful Hindemithian counterpoint, added-note harmonies, and modified tonality. However, Schiager provides enough color in his registrations to keep these pieces from sounding stuffy and utilitarian, and brings off the more substantial Triptychon (2000) with sufficient vigor to make it an exciting showpiece. Hyperion's audio is exceptional, and the organ of Hedvig Eleonora Church, Stockholm, sounds wonderfully resonant recorded at floor level.

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