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Hermann D. KOPPEL (1908 – 1998)
Symphony No. 1, Op. 5 Sinfonia breve (1930)
Symphony No. 2, Op. 37 (1943)
Aalborg SO/Moshe Atzmon
Rec. Symphonien, Aarlborg, Denmark on 11th – 13th 2001 (No. 1) and 4th – 5th October 2001 (No. 2). DDD
DACAPO 8.224205 [68.51]


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I am pleased to welcome this disc as I was very impressed with its predecessor (Symphonies 6 and 7, reviewed in June 2001). This is Volume 2, so I hope I haven’t missed any further releases in this series. A co-production between Dacapo and Danish Radio, the recordings are models of their kind: clear and detailed and well balanced by the sound engineers.

Are these symphonies as interesting to listen to as their later cousins? I think yes. Both are in the common three movement configuration which many Scandinavian composers use for this form of composition. The First Symphony is known as an apprentice work. Initially both this and the second symphony were forbidden by the composer to be performed.

Herman Koppel had been an admirer of the works of Carl Nielsen and in 1929, Nielsen wrote a recommendation - "The young artist Mr. Herman Koppel, has already, as both pianist and composer, revealed such uncommon abilities that it is a pleasure for me to give him my warmest recommendation. Mr. Koppel, who has now concluded his four year course, has been a great asset to the Royal Academy during these years, and I am convinced that a study trip abroad at this point would be of the greatest importance to his further artistic career, in view of which I yet again give him my best possible recommendation and good wishes on his way."

This recommendation allowed Koppel to travel to Germany for a course of study, primarily in Berlin where he spent his time composing and attending concerts. This symphony was completed during this period, and received its first performance on 23rd February 1931 by the conductor Emil Telmányi in the society Dansk Koncertforening. It was broadcast live on radio. In Koppel’s own words the first performance was "a crashing failure", and the symphony received harsh words in the newspaper reviews. It was seen as derivative: more Nielsen than Koppel. The composer was very disappointed with the work’s failure, and forbade further performances.

The Second Symphony was the first of a series of three "war symphonies" and was written in 1943, when Denmark had been under Nazi occupation for about three years. This would be about six months before the Jewish persecutions lead the composer into exile. This work is much longer than the First Symphony, running to almost 41 minutes. The first movement begins with a very beautiful cantabile theme on bassoon and celli. This becomes animated with the second subject on the violins and leads to a forceful climax. The themes of this are further reworked in the development and the movement ends with a fugue accompanied by trombone as a cantus firmus. The second movement is marked molto expressivo, and is the most serious of the three. The third movement opens with an elegiac passage and the resulting peaceful atmosphere is soon shattered by a violent march which begins the main part of the movement. This finishes unresolved with a question mark.

The symphony, dedicated to his wife, was given in the Tivoli Concert Hall, Copenhagen, and although not receiving the artistic savaging of its predecessor, also disappointed the composer who later deleted it from his list of compositions without returning to it again.

Dacapo is to be congratulated on having the courage to record two such works. Now, in the fullness of time, they don’t sound nearly as bad as seems to have been thought at the time. Given the advocacy of orchestra, conductor and recording engineers, this issue deserves a wide circulation – I liked it very much.

John Phillips

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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