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
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
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.