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Herman D KOPPEL (1908-1998)
Live Historical recordings
Herman D Koppel, piano (except items 2 and 3)
KOPPEL Piano Concerto No 3 op 45
Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Erik Tuxen
Recorded Concertgebouw Amsterdam 4 October 1953
KOPPEL Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra op 43
Else Marie Bruun violin Julius Koppel viola
Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Mogens Woldike
Recorded Copenhagen 10 October 1957
KOPPEL Clarinet Concerto op 35
Louis Cahuzac clarinet
Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Erik Tuxen
Recorded Copenhagen 15 November 1948
JOLIVET Concerto for piano and Orchestra
Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Erik Tuxen
Recorded Copenhagen 29 September 1956
STRAVINSKY Concerto for Pianoforte and Wind Instruments
Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Thomas Jensen
Recorded Copenhagen 13 June 1957
BARTÓK Piano Concerto No 1
Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Nicolai Malko
Recorded 4 November 1954
DANACORD DACOCD 561-562 2 CDs [138;40]

Danacord Records  

Once again we are in Danacord's debt.

This two CD set brings to wider notice the creative and recreative talents of Herman D(avid) Koppel, whose long life spanned much of the twentieth century and its bitter upheavals.

Copenhagen-born in 1908 he studied there and impressed Nielsen, then the Director of the Royal Danish Academy of Music - and whose music Koppel was to record later in life (on 78s in 1940 HMV DB5252-54; on a 1952 LP, KALP8, and finally, when he was well into his seventies on EMI DMA 069-70). Koppel's peripatetic career as pianist, recitalist and teacher survived flight to Sweden in 1943, in advance of the Germans, and subsequent stylistic changes in his compositional techniques.

The first disc covers seven years in Koppel's compositional life from 1941-48; the second disc is devoted to his performances of concertos by his contemporary, Jolivet, and by the senior composers Bartók and Stravinsky, both of whose works Koppel performed in concert.

By the time he had composed the works on this disc he has assimilated the influence of Nielsen and the almost obligatory importance of jazz rhythms (much of Scandinavia was especially receptive to jazz). He had also consolidated the dual influences of both Bartók and Stravinsky. The Third Piano Concerto of 1948 - scintillatingly played by the composer in this 1953 broadcast from Amsterdam - is a piece both surging and pert.

It opens with two arresting orchestral chords, which are answered by a skittish piano and which encourages the orchestra to modify its

implacable aggression; feverish piano passages abound as do returns to the skittish opening and dramatic brass surges, all of which lend the music a Prokofiev-like conviction. If the work as a whole fails quite to sustain the energy and wit of its opening movement it certainly lacks nothing in orchestral incident - an andante with sombre lower string writing, prominent woodwind, beautifully weighted piano runs, increasingly brittle and frantic orchestral interjections and a rather brusque finale with prominent brass fanfares and decorative piano runs.

The Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra has been called a pastoral work; with its rockingly insistent theme and its reluctance to indulge neo-baroque excursions, it journeys into perhaps even more sultry landscape than that. It is in this context that the rather precipitate first movement cadenza should be seen - even though, arriving at 6'37" and lasting all of two and a quarter minutes, it might not seem fully to have earned its keep, thematically speaking.

The work is played by Else Marie Bruun and Julius Koppel; the latter Herman's brother and the former his wife's sister; names familiar to collectors of 78s and LPs.

They perform with radiant understanding of the work's interior dialogue. For all the virtuoso chase-and-follow of the second movement's cadenza and the exposed lines leading to the curt orchestral summing up, this is a work of pleasurable simplicity.

We are especially fortunate that the November 1949 performance of the Clarinet Concerto has been preserved. One would never know that Louis Cahuzac found it daunting to play, so superbly does he articulate his line. It is a somewhat discursive, contemplative and thoughtful work. The clarinet occasionally sings its melody accompanied by lower strings, where Koppel reveals his sensitive orchestration. Two things should be added; firstly that the lacquer discs have suffered some wear and that there is very slight high frequency distortion, though this is of very little importance and listening pleasure will barely be impeded; and secondly that any preserved performance by the inspiring Cahuzac should be cherished.

The second disc amplifies the impression made by Koppel's performance of his own Concerto; he is a formidably equipped player. Further examples of his playing currently available are his accompaniments to ten Nielsen songs with Aksel Schiotz (Danacord DACOCD 354-356). In the Jolivet he contends with the barbarous percussion section and emerges unscathed; in the Stravinsky his aristocratic weight of tone lends, not inappropriately, a certain aloof sensitivity to the largo; his collaboration with Malko in the Bartók is wholly successful in conveying rhythmic frisson. It's for Koppel's own works that one would want this set but these concerto performances are a worthy pendant and one that reasonably reflects the range of Koppel's musical influences and interests.

These performances, preserved in the main by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, are in generally fine sound; even the Clarinet Concerto is acceptable. With conductors such as Tuxen, Woldike, Jensen and Malko and the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra in excellent form throughout, these recordings reflect the dual legacy of a most intriguing musician.

Jonathan Woolf

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