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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Herman D. KOPPEL (1908-1998)
Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet Op.36 (1942)
Niels Viggo BENTZON (1919-2000)

Wind Quintet No.5 Op.116 (1958)
Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet Op.278 (1971)
Nikolaj Bentzon (piano)
Wind Quintet of the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Recorded at the Danish Radio Concert Hall Copenhagen 20-24 November 2000 DDD
DA CAPO 8.224208 [52:42]


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I try to approach music that is new to me without any more preconceptions than can be helped. My preconceptions here were as follows. Herman Koppel is the pianist whose recordings of Nielsen’s piano music introduced me to that repertoire and I did not know he composed. Niels Viggo Bentzon is a composer of big gritty symphonies a few of which have been issued on LP or CD and some of which I like. Here we have a disc of chamber music for wind and piano by both composers. Da Capo have provided their usual excellent recording quality and the performers are obviously completely at home in this genre, partly because the music is audibly Nielsen-influenced and partly because the pianist is Bentzon junior.

Koppel’s Sextet is the pleasure of the disc, a real discovery. He composed it in 1942 and I was not surprised to read in Bertel Krarup’s interesting notes that a fellow musician asked him where he got all that cheerfulness from. His Sextet reminds me of a hybrid Nielsen/Martinů and is so much fun that I would recommend chamber groups to make more use of it. It is an odd work to compose if you are of Polish-Jewish extraction and living in Nazi-occupied Denmark. The first movement starts as a lively march and changes into jazzy music strongly reminiscent of Martinů’s La Revue de Cuisine. It also has a strong Nielsen influence in Koppel’s frequent use of repeated notes and in his ability to endow each instrument with a separate personality. The five wind instruments definitely sound as if they have their own stories to tell and only the piano is relegated to accompaniment status, a status it maintains throughout. The pastorale is a sort of extended decoration without a tune, but none the worse for that. The finale is a divertissement, busy, chirpy and entertaining music such as was being written in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s by the likes of Stravinsky, Martinů and Poulenc. Koppel’s Sextet does not have the sheer genius of, say, Stravinsky’s Octet, but it could easily share a programme with it and with the above-mentioned Martinů and would send the audience home happy. A lovely discovery, thank you Da Capo!

Bentzon’s two pieces make up the bulk of the disc and are a very different matter. Whilst I took notes on all seven movements in the two works I think they can be bundled together under the heading ‘Hindemith-in-less-inspired-mood’. Everything is very craftsmanlike but lacks passion. Indeed in some movements, especially in his Sextet, Bentzon seemed to be hectoring me. The piano thumps away in a fashion more angry than lively as if saying "I demand you listen!" The music is not particularly modern in idiom, a surprise after Bentzon’s symphonies, some of which are decidedly so. I just felt shouted at. The Wind Quintet of 1958 (his fourth despite the number) starts very seriously with a motto theme. Bentzon is fond of these and it is developed into a comparatively light mood by the end. The second movement was similar in feel and the third is a much more cheerful hymn-like Pastorale which is easy to enjoy. The finale just rattled on! The Sextet is similarly dominated by mottos being developed but I was left wishing that they had got somewhere, also this work in particular does too much shouting. Not a lot of laughs then on this disc and the issue is whether it is worth its price for the delightful Koppel Sextet. I think it probably is because otherwise you will never get to hear it, and you should.

Dave Billinge



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