Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Hermann D. KOPPEL (1908-1998)
Symphony No. 6, Op. 63 Sinfonia breve (1957)
Symphony No. 7, Op. 70 (1960 - 61)
Concerto for Orchestra, Op. 101 (1977 - 78)
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Moshe Atzmon
recorded at Symphonien, Aarlborg, Denmark on 30/8 - 4/9/1999.
DACAPO 8.224135 [74.19] DDD
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Judging by its title (Orchestral Works Vol. 1) there will be more works by this composer issued, presumable dependant upon how this current issue sells in the marketplace. I sincerely hope that there are more as I have enjoyed this disc immensely.

Herman D. (David) Koppel (1908 - 1998) was a very well known musical personality in Denmark. He was a hardworking composer, pianist, teacher and "patriarch of a musical dynasty that has become a Danish counterpart of the Bach family in Germany" - the words of the sleeve note, not mine.

Koppel's family originally lived in Poland, moving to Denmark in 1907. At the occupation of Denmark in 1943, Koppel, his wife and two young children moved to neutral Sweden to remove themselves from the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. Returning after the war his musical output changed somewhat, with an emphasis on vocal and choral works, many of which were settings of Old Testament texts.

What we have on this disc is Koppel's last two symphonies and the even later Concerto for Orchestra. Koppel was the last modern Danish composer who was greatly influenced by Carl Nielsen, and in his younger days he used to play Nielsen's piano works for the composer. Nielsen would look over the young composer's early works and give him help. The orchestration and overall sound of these symphonies are somewhat similar to those of the earlier master, but I would in no way compare them to Nielsen's output.

Koppel's seven symphonies were written between 1930 to 1961, these last two having completion dates of 1957 and 1961. The Concerto for Orchestra is much later, having been completed in 1978.

Symphony No. 6 is written in the unusual format of 5 movements, the first of which lasts almost as long as all the remainder put together. The writing is primarily tonal as was prevalent in Denmark at the time, and none the worse for this. Certain themes, particularly as heard in the second movement could almost have been written by Nielsen, but their treatment is quite different. I found influences of Bartók, Shostakovich and Nielsen all swirling around, and this is not in any way distracting. What distinguishes this work from those of the other composers mentioned is that it does not have a clear individual voice, but this may develop for me with further hearing of other works of this composer.

The 7th Symphony was commissioned by the Royal Danish Orchestra and was conducted by Leopold Ludwig. It is in three movements, and this time all are about the same duration. It starts with a slow first movement, followed by a Scherzo, and completed by an Allegro con brio. This symphony shows the composer to be at the height of his powers, although the much later Concerto for Orchestra is just as fine. Again, though, not a clear individual voice, but a conglomeration of other composers. Nevertheless these two symphonies are well worth hearing and have been most enjoyable.

The Concerto for Orchestra is a very fine work. Written for the Aarhus Orchestra on the occasion of the composer's 70th birthday this concerto is somewhat like a concerto grosso, where the various sections of the orchestra play against one another. These groups are: woodwind, brass, percussion, strings and a further group made up of piano, celesta and harp.

It is very strange that these works have not been widely performed, even in the composer's home country, and it is to be hoped that they will achieve more popularity from these recordings.

Dacapo have provided very comprehensive notes, and the recording is of very high quality - very like a top of the line BBC sound. The playing, although the works were unfamiliar, seems to be first rate, and this issue certainly gives the composer the highest level of advocacy. Roll on Volume 2.

John Phillips

Rob Barnett adds:

The Koppel family's roots are Jewish with the Koppels arriving in Denmark from Poland with many other east European Jews at just the same time as many Danes were emigrating to the USA. Koppel was the last Danish composer to take his cue from Nielsen. Indeed Koppel played all the Nielsen piano music. After the death of Nielsen in 1931 Stravinsky, Bartók and jazz became stronger influences interacting with his earlier more romantic proclivities. Koppel was a world class pianist and there are private radio recordings of Koppel playing his first, third and fourth piano concertos.

There were seven symphonies written between 1930 and 1961 but the composer withdrew the first two in 1943. The Third is from the depths of the world war - written during the Nazi Occupation. Number 5 was completed in 1946 and is a determinedly serious piece.

The Sixth Symphony has many Nielsen-like touches e.g. the chipper woodwind writing, carolling French horns and rushing strings (tracks 4 and 5). The edginess of the writing can be put down to Bartók though, unprompted, I would have guessed at a Bergian influence. Robert Simpson is also to be heard though Koppel presumably influenced him rather than the other way around. Prokofiev is also to be heard in Tempo I (track 5) as well as a return to the cheeky dancing convulsions at the end of the work.

The Sixth is all over in just over a quarter of an hour. The truculent Seventh Symphony is lasts more than twice as long. It is a work of gawky incident. Lines and linkages are not easily traceable. The old Koppel - the Nielsen acolyte - is to be heard in the tender woodwind writing at 3.02 in the first movement. The work is heavy with oppressive ambience. The Scherzo recalls Malcolm Arnold rather vividly (Arnold symphonies 5 and 6). Koppel shows a darkling humour with a Beethovenian glint in his eyes. The last movement allegro is has a dyspeptic clarinet theme developing into some dissolute uproarious 'galloping' with side drum and brash horns at close quarters with Shostakovich. I thought the work began to meander in the long finale though pulling itself together for the final convulsions.

Leaving symphonies behind him in 1961, Koppel proceeded down the route of concertante music. The Concerto for Orchestra is a late work. commissioned by the Aarhus orchestra. Its busily rippling textures flow and melt together like late Tippett moving with the pace of a giant ice floe on a swollen river. The great long lyrical line dips, curls, swirls - reminiscent of Martinö in the Fourth Symphony. Thudding Stravinskianisms in the allegro are dissipated by the tender adagio. This returns to the long lines of the vivace first movement and a dawn that is part Ravel-part Panufnik. The jerky exhilaration of the allegro reasserts itself in the finale. The Concerto is a work that would make many new friends if given its chance.

Moshe Atzmon and the Aalborg Orchestra seem fluent and are excellent at the spinning of lyrical lines though I wondered if more verve should have been channelled into the finale of the Concerto for Orchestra. Documentation first class as is recording quality.

Watch for the next issue. I rather hope we will be getting a set of the piano concertos to go with the symphony cycle.

Rob Barnett

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