The fourth volume of the Harmonious Families series
of CDs is simply stunning - at least the first half of it is. I must
nail my colours to the mast and state that Siegfried Langgaard's Piano
Concerto No. 1 is my discovery of 2001- so far. As for his son Rued's
Concerto I have some minor reservations.
I have written much about Rued Langgaard in these pages
when I reviewed his symphonic cycle,
also released by Danacord - so I will not dwell on his biography or
his musical achievement. However Siegfried is an unknown quantity. For
some reason he does not merit an entry in the current Grove, although
his contribution to Danish musical life was not insignificant. I rely
heavily on the programme notes for details of Siegfried's life.
In the mid nineteenth century there was a Norwegian
born pianist by the name of Edmund Neupert - a sort of Scandinavian
'Liszt'. He taught piano at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. To aid
his teaching he produced a series of virtuosic studies that were seminal
in the development of the student pianist techniques. Furthermore, he
gave the first performance of the famous Grieg Piano Concerto in
A minor in 1868. So it is hardly surprising this piano teacher caused
certain stylistic features to be firmly embedded in the young composer's
mind. Couple this with the fact that Siegfried was taught theory and
composition by Niels W Gade and J.P.E Hartman and we find a composer
with a perfect technical and theoretical background for carrying out
his vocation. To crown this academic foundation, Langgaard père
studied with Franz Liszt himself.
It is sad to note that Siegfried's virtuosic career
was never to be. He did not have the temperament for public performance
and this led to a nervous disorder. Like many other people who failed
to break into the concert hall he turned to teaching. In addition to
teaching he produced a small opus of works. And this is the saddest
thing of all. We have a wonderful concerto given on this disc - there
is a second that has also been produced in a two piano version. There
are a few songs and a number of piano solo pieces. Such a small output
- such a tragically misplaced talent.
Even on a first listening to this concerto we feel
that we are in the presence of a masterpiece. It is everything one could
possibly want from a work in this form. It is romantic, virtuosic and
beautifully scored. Yet the performance given on this CD is the first
time it has been heard by the musical public.
The programme notes suggest that Tchaikovsky's Piano
Concerto in B flat-minor (1874/75) may have been an inspiration.
However, I am not so sure. I accept that this music was quite obviously
in the air. However, after listening to many of the concerti released
on the wonderful Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto Series, it is easier
to see other sources of inspiration. In many ways this is music ahead
of its time. There are Warsaw Concerto moments in here along
with Rachmaninovian, 'Brief Encounters'. That, I think is what makes
it so good. It is like discovering a new country. Here is a Piano Concerto
(my favourite form) that I never knew existed until last week. Yet it
is a work that satisfies, excites and moves. There is no doubt in my
mind that this is a first rate example of the form. It is on a par with
Rachmaninov, Grieg and Tchaikovsky. And that is not just reviewer's
hype. I truly believe that if this concerto were to become well known
it would become a favourite, in the concert hall, the radio and on CD.
It is impossible to describe the work adequately. I
would need to peruse the score. However all the elements of a romantic
or late romantic concerto are present. The big chords, the intimate
melodies, the arpeggiated bass, the figuration, the struggle to overwhelm
the orchestra, the aggression and the tenderness. It is all here and
here in plenty.
What more can I say? It is a masterpiece; a work approaching
The Piano Concerto by Rued is a completely different
work. The genesis of this piece is convoluted to say the least. In a
nutshell we can deduce that the themes are derived from Siegfried's
works whilst the formal attributes and the orchestration are quite clearly
Rued's. Like much of Rued's music it is actually very difficult to pin
it down. The movements are given esoteric titles that in many ways only
detract from the listening experience. The movements sport names such
as 'Cliffs,' 'Surf' (just like one of the movements from Borresen's
Second Symphony. Ed.), 'Starry Skies' and 'Harvest Time.' I think the
same applies here as to most of his symphonic works - forget the programme!
Rued was incapable of just writing a piano concerto
- or even of knocking a few tunes written by his father into a new concerto.
It had to have deep quasi-religious and apocalyptic overtones.
The programme notes write, "The piano concerto attempts - in the light
of recollection - to reproduce the general feeling of a whole epoch
in a musical conglomeration centred on Siegfried's Langgaard's compositions."
It is fair to say that what Rued is doing is writing
a reflection of music that was current at the turn of the twentieth
century and reinterpreting it in light of developments of the 1930s.
Rued Langgaard regarded the turn of the century as having a certain
It is not appropriate in this short review to attempt
an analysis of the movements - it would simply be a crib from the sleeve
notes. What we can say is that there is massiveness about this work
that is somewhat akin to Busoni's great concerto, which is perhaps just
a little too much. As usual, Rued mixes his styles. It is difficult
to get to grips with. We are left feeling that it has got us nowhere.
Unlike Siegfried's concerto it is not a romantic struggle between soloist
and orchestra that is resolved in the soloists favour. It is not that
it is bad music - in fact that are some gorgeous moments - however there
is a sense of 'bittiness' that pervades the entire work. Yet on the
whole it is pretty good stuff. Rued does seem to have a way of handling
the piano and the orchestra. In a funny sort of way I like and appreciate
it. It makes the ideal coupling.
The pianist, Oleg Marshev takes both of these works
very seriously indeed. It would be so easy to make fun of the romantically
overblown style of Siegfried's concerto. But he plays it with great
feeling. Both the aggression and the tenderness are played with consummate
skill. As usual the Danish Philharmonic Orchestra under Matthias Aeschbacher
play well. All credit to them in giving two 'first performances' of
two very complex works.
The programme notes are excellent, although little
bit more information on Siegfried Langgaard would have been helpful.
This is a superb CD - two works, which should have
been recorded many years ago. Siegfried's concerto must become better
known. All it needs are a few performances with a good soloist and competent
orchestra; a few plays of this disc on Radio 3 and Classic FM. This
work would then establish itself along with Rach. 2 and Tchaik. 1.