Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Ludolf NIELSEN (1876-1939)
The Tower of Babel (1912-14)
Forest Walk (1922)
Iréne Theorin (sop) - Voice of a bird
Johnny van Hal (ten) - tenor solo
Per Høyer (bar) - Human Voice
Danish National Radio SO/Owain Arwel Hughes
co-production with Danmarks Radio
rec 1-3 Oct 1999, Copenhagen
DA CAPO 8.224093 [63.05]

Da Capo do not lack for staying power. Having recorded all three of the symphonies by Ludolf Nielsen they might have been tempted to take a long sabbatical. Not a bit of it. Instead they tackle the massy heights of Nielsen's setting of a poem by Gyrithe Lenche. The poem extols the perfection to be achieved through spiritual exaltation. The setting runs to 35 minutes and is for substantial forces including three soloists and a semi-chorus of four other voices alongside a very full choir all with orchestra. While the first symphony threshes about under the shadow of Brahms this work is far more distinctive and imposing. Baritone, Per Høyer is in darkly stern and secure voice - another Jörma Hynninen if ever I heard one. The work has the flaming conviction and some of the sound-world of Rudolph Tobias's Jonah's Mission, of Verdi's Requiem and of Havergal Brian's Siegeslied Symphony. With Rued Langgaard and Louis Glass, Nielsen had idealistic Millenarian visions as also some years later had John Ireland in These Things Shall Be. It is intriguing to hear this work alongside Langgaard's Music of the Spheres and Sinfonia Interna (also on Da Capo) and when you come to the beginning of Part 2 of the Tower one can hear the clearest kinship with the Langgaard work woven with the lyric lambency of Lange-Muller and Gade and the outdoor songs and pastoral idylls of namesake's Carl's Springtime on Fyn. This part becomes increasingly pastoral and serenade-like as if retreating to a Utopian greensward but accented in a way that all but suggests Vaughan Williams' Sir John in Love or Holst's A Choral Symphony. In the peroration the music develops a confident bell swing. Extremely enjoyable!

From the second part of Babel it is an easy footstep to the Forest Walk which is at first quite Straussian (the Danes have often been under the sway of influences from their southern neighbours). Pan's pipe (flute-articulated) wreathes these pages in secret smiles amid rustling undergrowth. The birdcalls and general Swinburnian ambience will be familiar to admirer's of Bax's unnumbered Symphony Spring Fire, Nympholept and Happy Forest and more familiarly to anyone who knows Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe. Pan by noon and Bacchus by night, indeed. The other parallel work is the central movement of Carl Nielsen's Sinfonia Espansiva. In the concluding section Towards Daybreak the music tilts towards the harmonic complexes of Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht and Josef Suk's Wenceslas Meditation. This is a most surprising discovery and well worth your investment.

Full notes, texts and translations are given. The performances are utterly convincing.

Rob Barnett

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