> SINDING Symphonies Dausgaard [CH]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Christian SINDING (1856-1941)
Symphony no. 1 in D minor, op. 21
Symphony no. 2 in D, op. 83

Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR/Thomas Dausgaard
Recorded in the Grosser Sendesaal des Landesfunkhauses Hannover des NDR, 24th-28th Feb. 1997, 13th-17th Sep. 1999
CPO 999 502-2 [70í42"]


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Having devoted a good deal of time and energy to promoting the causes of a range of underestimated composers (first among them Stanford) I know how infinitely galling it can be when finally a major work gets a hearing and the critics, on a single hearing and without any background knowledge, lash in. "How can they be so stupid as not to hear this, that or the other?" I find myself muttering, torn between anger and anguish. So, before pitching in myself, I try to remember that there may be people out there who have been waiting for years to hear these works (well, actually this is their second outing in recent months, they are also available from Rasilainen and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra on Finlandia 3984-27889-2), hoping and praying that the gospel of the composerís greatness will finally make its way around the world. For all I know there may be Sinding Societies and Sinding Pressure Groups dotted all around Norway, and if there are I think Thomas Dausgaard must belong to them all, for he conducts not just with conviction but with a rightness of pacing that makes you think heís had them in his repertoire all his life. I donít want to upset anyone. But dammit, somebody, somewhere must have written some boring, uninspired music, and why shouldnít it be Sinding?

The opening movement of the first Symphony is actually rather promising, with striking themes and a definitely Nordic-heroic tone. It depends overmuch on insistent rhythms to keep going but it sustains its length fairly well. So, too, does the second movement. Climaxes can be a bit brassy but there is an imaginative moment where horn and solo violins weave around one another. Unfortunately the work seems to run out of steam at this point. I found little to engage me in the scherzo (though the trio was jolly) and my only memory of the finale at the time of writing (about an hour after hearing it) is that it went on for a long time without gathering any momentum. Itís rather sad that Sinding laboured so long (he began it in 1887, the second version was performed in 1890 and a third, final, version had its première in 1894) to produce so little. Itís just a thought, but I suppose the final version is the best?

The second Symphony was premièred in Berlin by Weingartner in 1907 Ė Sinding was very highly regarded in his day. Itís "better" in the sense that there is more variety to its pacing, its construction is clear and the post-Wagnerian orchestra is handled with complete mastery. If well-made music is "good" music then this is "good" music. But if the object of music is to inspire, to move, to involve the listener, then is this really music at all? Is there anything here that "only" Sinding could have written? A trace of a personal voice can be heard amongst the naiveties of the first Symphony, but it sounds terribly as though the acquisition of a sound compositional technique choked it. The notes to the CD are devastatingly fair in that they quote a contemporary review of the first performance of the second Symphony which found the piece a thorough disappointment.

In 1919 Sinding completed a further Symphony, premièred under Nikisch in Leipzig the following year. Now we have two recordings of these first two I suppose one or other conductor will want to finish the cycle. Will the later work confirm the impression of a slender talent which slid into mediocrity, or was the second Symphony the product of an off-day?

Perhaps we are looking for the wrong thing. In Sindingís day contemporary music was not a taboo, limited to a noisy clique, it was normal for several new romantic symphonies to come out every season, they were not necessarily expected to last (did Weingartner and Nikisch ever conduct these works again?). They were the prose background against which the occasional masterpieces were produced. Lucky Sinding who lived at a time when there was money to be earned by writing musical prose. Nowadays you could programme a computer to write a romantic symphony and churn out works like this by the billion.

So, no masterpieces here, in spite of fine presentation by conductor, orchestra, recording team and booklet-note writer. The cover is unwittingly emblematic. It is a reproduction a painting by Johann Christian Clausen Dahl, showing a black, foam-flecked sea almost meeting a threatening black sky with a strip of red sunset between them and a steamer battling its way across the scene. Itís mightily impressive, until you stop to think how many black foam-flecked seascapes with red sunsets you must have seen that look mightily impressive in exactly the same way. And isnít that rather what the musicís all about?

Christopher Howell


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