The Rudersdal Chamber Players lift the music of Poul Ruders off the page and into the ether with finesse and passion. Liner notes include Ruders’ own quirky accounting for the pieces, and players’ biographies, which one senses were written by themselves. The group has been together since 2017, with members mostly of the current generation, all excellent. No explanation is offered for the similarity of the names, so call it a coincidence. The group is named for a music festival whose home is Rudersdal.
The music itself is intense and compelling. Three works fill out the roughly 60 minutes of track time: Throne for clarinet and piano (1988); and the more recent Clarinet Quintet (2014) and Piano Quartet (2016). Describing or categorizing Ruders’ music requires more space than allotted, so I decided to list some adjectives and some possible likenesses to other composers: swinging, soaring, wailing; sweet and then astringent; moody and meditative; then boisterous and exuberant.
Sometimes in the style of a chorale, featuring monody or homophony, with minimal vibrato (the Adagio movement of the Clarinet Quintet). At others (especially in the Piano Quartet) he reverts to more boldly modern style in the sense that his usual tonalism gives way to expressionistic chromaticism. And especially in the playing of the terribly capable clarinetist Jonas Frøland, expect keening notes at the top of the spectrum to tug on your emotions.
If he has forebears, they are Messiaen (although Ruders is doubtless a pantheist) and Ruders’ compatriot Carl Nielsen (minus the melancholy). His contemporary cadre might include Gavin Bryars and Anders Hillborg, and possibly Kaija Saariaho. In his own words, the most important defining feature of his music is its soul and I urge you to discover that for yourself.