> Thomas Jensen conducts the Aarhus Civic Orchestra [CH]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Thomas Jensen conducts the Aarhus Civic Orchestra
Friedrich KUHLAU (1786-1832)

Overture: William Shakespeare*
Svend Erik TARP (1908-1994)

The Raven, from Suite on Danish Folktunes*
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Ballet music from Le Cid*
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)

Serenade for Strings in e, op. 20, Salut díAmour*
C. C MØLLER (1823-1893)

Aarhus Tattoo*
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Prélude à líaprès-midi díun faune**
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Marche Slave, op. 31**
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)

Sabre Dance from Gayaneh**
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)

Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride**
Johann II STRAUSS (1825-1899)

Schatzwalzer, op. 418, Tritsch-Tratsch Polka, op. 214**
Johann I STRAUSS (1804-1849)

Radetzky March**
Aarhus Civic Orchestra/Thomas Jensen
Recorded in Aarhus, November 1948*, October 1956**
DANACORD DACOCD 497 [73í56"]

The Aarhus Civic Orchestra, now known as the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, has been heard quite often on disc in recent years but these are the only recordings it made under the conductor who led it from its institution in 1935 until 1957, and who had previously (since 1927) guided the combined fortunes of the Aarhus Philharmonic Society and the Aarhus Theatre.
Thomas Jensen was born in Copenhagen in 1898 and studied the cello at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, where his harmony teacher was Carl Nielsen. As an orchestral cellist he took part in performances of most of Nielsenís Symphonies under the composer and Nielsenís daughters held that Jensen was the conductor whose performances came closest to Nielsenís own (Danacordís 3-CD set of the Symphonies, DACOCD 351-353, includes live accounts by Jensen of nos. 3, 4 and 6). From 1957 till his death in 1963 he conducted the Danish Radio Orchestra.
Jensen made fairly frequent recordings from the 1930s onwards, but usually in Copenhagen. The 1948 sessions were the first orchestral recordings to have been made in Denmark outside the capital city. They were made for the Danish label TONO and were sufficiently successful for most of the 1951 performances to have been sold to Mercury for issue in the USA.
Thus far, so interesting, but is anyone but a Dane likely to want to listen to this slice of Danish provincial musical history? At the start of the Kuhlau overture, with various imprecisions and a horn who, while competent, hasnít "solo" quality in his rather important part, I thought no. But as the tempo increased I was struck by the rhythmic vitality Jensen was getting out of his players, as well as by the sensitivity of his phrasing. The recording has remarkable presence for its date (and has been very well transferred) and reveals a likeable piece of music of which alternative modern recordings are not exactly legion.
Jensen extracts a good deal of haunting atmosphere from the Tarp movement (is the rest of the Suite as good as this?) and everybody seems to be enjoying themselves in the Massenet. Rhythmic vitality is again shown to be a Jensen strongpoint, together with a relish of orchestral colour.
Not many Elgarians will know that a Danish orchestra recorded the Serenade in 1948. In the bright and perky first movement, and also in the last, we feel the absence of the sort of subtle inflexions we are used to from the likes of Barbirolli, but straightforwardness was part of the Jensen style. In the Larghetto we are reminded that he was a string player, for he draws a lot of subtle shading from his players and obtains a heartfelt performance. Not a first choice for the Elgar Serenade but worth hearing for this slow movement. Jensen had obviously trained his string-players carefully for their very clean style of playing, with scarcely a trace of portamento, was by no means what you always heard in 1948. You might feel that "Salut díAmour" is too "clean", but this is a fault in the right direction. The 1948 sessions finish with the Aarhus Tattoo; Jensen finds an infectious verve which saves a piece that could sound purely banal.
The nearest to a "major" work in the 1951 sessions is the Debussy Prélude. This is a very likeable performance, striking an excellent balance between hedonism and languor, and generally well played. Of course, there a innumerable "great" versions in the catalogue and when I compared it to the 1939 Beecham I could not deny that this was in another category of orchestral refinement, phrasing and sheer magic. But taken on his own Jensen does not disappointment.
The Tchaikovsky (with an appalling tape join) is a sanely optimistic, non-neurotic rendering, even perky at times. Jensenís vitality is infectious so this slightly unusual interpretation is worth hearing. The Khachaturian loses nothing in comparison with the Malko version of three years earlier Ė terrific vitality from both of them. More vitality in the Smetana, together with a realisation that this is more civilised music than the Khachaturian and the effect is based on swirling strings rather than braying brass.
That Denmark produced Lumbye surely gives Danes the credentials for conducting Strauss as well as anyone outside Austria, and so it proves. Jensen gives the waltz the right inflexions without overdoing the schmaltz and the two final pieces are full of verve.
To repeat my question above, is this going to interest anyone but a Dane, well, if you are out for "great" interpretations or state-of-the-art sound then I suppose you will pass this by. All the same, there is something heart-warming about Jensenís musicianship and I certainly enjoyed hearing his performances. I owe my information about Jensen, the orchestra and the recordings to the excellent booklet.

Christopher Howell

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