Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

VICTOR BENDIX (1851-1926)
Symphony No 1 Mountain Climbing (1882)
Symphony No 2 Sounds of Summer from South Russia (1888)
Symphony No 3 (1895)
Symphony No 4 (1906)

Omsk PO/Evgeni Shestakov
rec Omsk 1995 (syms 1-3) July-Aug 1999 (sym 4)
 DANACORD DACOCD436-7 CD1 [66.37]; CD2 [66.04]

Bendix was born into a musically-inclined family in Copenhagen. He was taught by Niels Gade and was an early student at the Copenhagen Conservatoire. He travelled to Germany on a scholarship. He attended the foundation stone ceremony for Wagner's Bayreuth Theatre. He took his 1884 piano concerto on tour through Europe. His wife Dagmar played the concerto in London. He preserved a sparkling and assertive piano technique well beyond the age of seventy.

The Royal Danish Orchestra avoided his music. Despite this he was regarded as a person of high eminence in Danish musical life. His works include various overtures and suites, Psalm 33 for chorus and orchestra (1874), a Piano Trio (1888), and a circa 50 minute piano sonata.

A romantic composer to the core he may be compared with Raff and Glazunov. On this evidence he is less a dramatist than a weaver of idylls and a steadily surging romance.

In his first symphony there is a contentment that is simultaneously of Brahms and Schumann. The symphony is inspired by Holger Drachmann's poem 'Mountain Climbing'. The notes make something of possible links with Liszt's Ce qu'on entends sur la montagne. Themes are fresh if not quite as durable and 'springy' as the Bizet and Goldmark symphonies, works which, together with the Hartmann and Ludolf Nielsen symphonies, the Bendix symphonies may be grouped. In the finale (where there were some defects of ensemble in the opening bars) I was reminded of Arthur Sullivan's Irish Symphony.

The Third Symphony's first movement is intensely emotional and uses the woodwind most poignantly. There are several passages for solo instruments. The style is old-fashioned beside Nielsen .... however what of it. Bendix is tender and can dream day-dreams with the best of them. I thought of Stanford's symphonies as a parallel but his way with music is more probingly impassioned than the Irish composer taking a little of Tchaikovsky. The movement ends in great tenderness. The scherzo has some of that hiccuping snarl typified by Nielsen in the Choleric movement from his Second Symphony alongside a hint of Bizet from L'Arlésienne. Shestakov builds ineluctably, steadily and remorselessly and grasps some grandly lyrical moments as in 7.19 (finale) where the strings, in plush depth and swell, sing in wondering confidence. This, for me, is the outstanding highlight of the disc. Courageously (and effectively) Bendix ends the work with a slow warm sunset rather than a blazing Valhalla.

The Second Symphony is pastoral in mood. Its Russian theme is confirmed by the snap and colouring of some of melodies and motifs but this is more of a Danish idyll (lively enough, mind you) than a Russian nationalist work. There is something of Alfven's Midsommervarka about the woodwind and the movement ends with a charming paraph in sound from the woodwind who also dance in Glazunov-like charm in the flighty scherzo. The andante deploys a theme recalling nostalgic early Sibelius. Once again I was reminded of the pastoral mood suites of Ludolf Nielsen. The finale barrels along like a cousin of the Bartered Bride overture but ends in relaxation.

The Fourth Symphony is unpublished. It is dedicated to Dagmar, the composer's second wife, and in the first movement is suggestive of Brahms' Haydn Variations at one moment, Nielsen in Second Symphony mode at the next and the Schumann of the Spring and Rhenish symphonies. The roughened Hurdy-Gurdy charm of the Intermezzo and its Elgarian wistfulness evolve in the third movement into the rounded succulent pastoralism of Nielsen's Espansiva. This sports some very fine playing from the brass and woodwind. The finale, where I have to say that inspiration sputters, does not have the polish and unanimity of the rest of the set although there is no lack of spark in some characterful solo work as at 3.10.

The notes, by Danacord regular Mogens Wenzel Andreasen, are in Danish and English.

Jesper Buhl is the guiding light of Danacord and as great a name as Sterling's Bo Hyttner and as Lyrita Recorded Edition's reclusive Richard Itter. Buhl provides the background notes on the orchestra and how the recording came about. Buhl chose bravely and well with the Omsk Orchestra and with Shestakov. The strings are notably rich. The recording is to match, made with SONY digital equipment from the local Irtish state radio station. Thanks are certainly due to the West Siberian authorities, the radio station and the engineer Euginie Shabanov for a de luxe production of music otherwise choked into silence by the dust of neglect.

This is another treasurable achievement from Danacord. Would that their Louis Glass cycle could have been issued in a single box rather than the slow incremental approach which so far has borne to us only Symphony No. 4.

The Third Symphony is an outstanding piece. Not up to Louis Glass's Fifth Symphony (but then few works are) but glowing and sturdily romantic. I urge you to acquire this engagingly pleasurable set if you have any feeling for Glazunov, Kopylov, Glass, Atterburg, Ludolf Nielsen, Karlowicz or Borodin.

Rob Barnett

See also review by Gerald Fenech

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