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Rued LANGGAARD (1893-1952)
Drapa (On the Death of Edvard Grieg) BVN 20 (1907, rev. 1909-13) [5:27]
Sphinx - tone painting for orchestra BVN 37 (1909-10, rev. 1913) [6:46]
Hvidbjerg-Drapa for choir, organ and orchestra BVN 343 (1948) [3:06]
Danmarks Radio (Radio Denmark) fanfares for orchestra BVN 351 (1948) [1:18]
Res absùrda!? for choir and orchestra BVN 354 (1948) [5:35]
Symphony No. 15 Sostormen (Storm at Sea) BVN 375 (1937/1949) [17.40]
Symphony No. 16 Syndflod af Sol (Sun Deluge) BVN 417 (1950-51) [21.52]
Danish National Choir; Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
rec. 2007-8, Danish Radio House Concert Hall. DDD
with financial support of Langgaard Fonden, Augustinus Fonden and Gangstedfonden. Recorded in cooperation with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation
DACAPO 6.220519 [61.43]
Experience Classicsonline

 

This is the seventh and final disc in Danacord's life-enhancing and scholarly series. The involvement of Bendt Viinholt Nielsen - who provides the notes and editorial supervision - has ensured contemporary authority for the annotation. Thomas Dausgaard has been our warranty of constancy of vision across the enigma that is the orchestral output.

While the neglect of Langgaard by Danish Radio drew the composer's contempt and satire he eventually owed much to the Corporation's radio revivals of the 1960s and 1970s. Ole Schmidt, John Frandsen and others took up these works with encouragement from anew generation of Danish broadcast producers. Busy Philips, Grundig, Tandberg, Revox and Akai reel-to-reel machines across Denmark were whirring. The resulting tapes spread through a network of enthusiasts across the world. That the music was intriguing and fervently romantic was all that mattered. That its style was out of step with the times in which the music was written no longer mattered. That Langgaard had died twenty plus years ago and could not witness its revival was sad but that was no obstacle to the music beginning to travel and find a place for itself.

Like Joseph Holbrooke and many another of that generation Langgaard had considerable success in Europe's concert halls in the first decade or so of the last century. It was the haphazard compass of fashion that left his music floundering and lost. While Langgaard was resentful of Nielsen it's worth bearing in mind that on the international stage Nielsen's music did not travel significantly until the 1950s - again after that composer's death.

The Drapa (on the death of Grieg) dates from 1907 although there were various revisions before the final edition was made in 1913. It is this latter edition that we hear from Danacord. It comprises a monothematic grand funeral cortege. This fervently sturdy march, in its five or so minutes, gives a satisfying epitome of the Langgaard credo - its confident tread and romantic accent.

Sphinx is another mystical piece in which music is the Sphinx: a great tower reaching in its foundations below the surface of the earth and ascending to infinite heights out into space. It was performed in Berlin 1913 at the famous Berlin Phil concert where Max Fiedler also conducted the Langgaard First Symphony. It is an intense little piece built from a single cell which has some similarities with the winding and unwinding melodic cell that makes up the mysterious start of Nielsen's Helios overture. Here it is used to quite different effect and over a shorter time-span. It is an impressive and very memorable piece which rises from silence to exultant climax and sinks back into silence.

Half as long as the first two pieces yet immediately wild-eyed and stormy is the Hvidbjerg-Drapa. This is a crashing Tchaikovskian tempest with organ and bells accompanied by a blazingly magnificent choral part. It just ends and the listener is left stunned – rather like Ives in that sense.

Danmarks Radio is another wild romp. It has bells, the Dies Irae and an unstoppable enegry - even a touch of dissonance. That propulsion - and some of the accents - recall Nielsen at his most choleric. The effect across its very short duration is like an episode from Grainger's The Warriors.

Res Absurda is lit from the same gunpowder but with a whooping Straussian accelerant to add to the flames. In its exuberant repetitive brevity we might think of Verdi's Requiem and Delius's A Mass of Life. The choir throw themselves into this piece as they do with the abandoned eagerness of Hvidbjerg Drapa.

Langgaard's last two symphonies are quite compact and are in four and five movements respectively.

No.15 has as its last movement a piece for baritone, chorus and orchestra. It sets Thoger Larsen's poem Sostormen – which the composer completed in 1937. In 1949 after a night time walk in Ribe he was gripped to write the first three movements between 4am and 7am that night and to see the 1937 setting as an organic conclusion to the resulting piece. The first movement is full of what I can only describe as energetic foreboding. This is given the fugal treatment. The second movement is strong on restfully sweet charm and on a swaying beguiling innocence that you might relate to the Tchaikovsky ballets. The adagio funebre returns to the brooding and threatening eerily hesitant style of the first movement. The orchestration has a more airily transparent style than the shorter works here. The finale introduces us to the voices. The setting crashes with that seething fervent energy that is a Langgaard hallmark . It also reminded me of that strange work by Bruckner, Heligoland and of Grieg's Landkjenning. The helden bass-baritone is the unshakable Johan Reuter. All the movements are played attacca.

No. 16, Langgaard's last symphony stands as the composer's testament to the lofty commitment to romanticism. In this he saw himself as an isolated trustee of an apostolic mission. This symphony is warmly Straussian – gold-tinged by horns, confidently expressed and warmly enwrapped by the strings. In the second movement Langgaard writes a Schumann-inflected Scherzo entitled Straffe which had originally been written in 1950 as a freestanding prelude to Strindberg's play Storm. It stands out in the company of the other movements as being more hesitant – less of the wild-eyed plunge into romance. This enjoys a more stripped down athletic style - yet still pensive and brooding. The penultimate movement Elegy has a smilingly placid Griegian air. It provides an off-centre ‘centre of gravity’. The finale returns to euphoria of the first movement with a heaviness of heart and a more stolid tread. Is there now doubt in the composer's mind?

The gaps between tracks are too short. Dacapo should in this sense take Lyrita's practice to heart where the end of one piece is allowed to subside and impressions to clear from the mind before the next work begins.

This is fascinating music in which the romantic spirit is unquenched.
 
Rob Barnett
 


 


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