Valerie Hartzell : Three Nordic Sketches
Bergmann Edition: 14 pages
Valerie Hartzell’s second publication was written to be played whilst she was touring Norway in March 2020 and the three pieces beautifully reflect this picturesque country
Aurora Borealis starts and ends with artificial harmonics playing a whole tone scale, thus giving the music instantly an other-worldly beginning that only a whole tone scale can. Then a section of arpeggios with a slightly off – kilter harmonic quality, sometimes topped with more artificial harmonics takes over, becoming more varied on a repeat section. Then the music returns to the whole tone scale for a gradually enlarging pattern, firstly in triplets, then in groups of 4 then 5, 6, 7, 8 and finally 9 notes with an instruction to ring as many on as possible throughout this very pictorial passage. A moment’s relaxation with some longer notes, leads then to the final freely rubato section where groups of sextuplet arpeggios based around augmented 7th chords (thus still whole tone) lead to the coda and the already stated artificial harmonics whole tone scale for its conclusion. This movement aptly conveys the dazzling and ultimately strange picture of the aurora borealis, and is a worthy beginning to the set, but does require some very careful control and a good player for it to work properly.
Ice is a two page piece entirely in natural harmonics but written in such a way that the movement never stops still and everything is notated very carefully with strings and harmonic number, but also where to put your fingers, rather than what actual note sounds. It is a good player who can play this piece without any slip – ups, as you have to be very secure just exactly where your harmonics are at a Moderato speed , and sometimes playing two at once. Nevertheless this is another piece that successfully creates just the right picture.
The final Wings over Alta was written after watching sea birds encircling the waters whilst Valerie was onboard the MV Aurora, where she was performing a number of concerts. The marking of Pastoral over the 6/8 movement captures the mood well, and consists an almost constant run of quavers but in a number of different patterns that keep the player occupied.
This is a lovely set of three pieces that are sketches, but also almost studies in some ways as they each have a technical use that will benefit most players. The music is always tonal, the fingerings and technical instructions carefully provided, and there are, moreover, three videos showing how the composer wants them to be played. So all in all this is a set well worth your time and effort getting to know!