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Knudåge RIISAGER (1897-1974)
Piano Works: Sonata Op. 22 (1931) [14:38]; Deux Morceaux (1933) [2:51]; Four Pieces from Slaraffenland Op. 33 (1936-40) [7:32]; Sonatine (1950) [7:15]; Waltz from ballet Tolv med posten Op. 37 (1939) [2:07]; Fire Børneklaverstykker (1964) [3:22]; Quatre Épigrammes (1922) [8:16]; En Glad Trompet og andre Klaverstykker (1933-35) [6:07]
Christina Bjørkøe (piano)
rec. Carl Nielsen Academy of Music, 13 Dec 2003, 31 Jan, 27 Mar 2004. DDD
DACAPO 8.226004 [52:47]


You might know Riisager's name whether because of his Trumpet Concertino, recorded by CBS as part of a Philadelphia Principals series, or because of Chandos's exemplary orchestral collection.

Born in Estonia of Danish parents he pursued a life in music alongside a career in the higher echelons of the Copenhagen-based civil service. His musical grounding came from Otto Malling and then Peder Gram but his works were lent a distinctive flavour by Parisian years spent as a pupil of Paul le Flem and Albert Roussel. His orchestral music includes a Violin Concerto written for Wandy Tworek, orchestral fantasies such as Archaeopteryx and ballets such as Moon Reindeer and Qartssiluni.

The 1931 Sonata is said to have been inspired by Bartók's visit to Copenhagen and by performances of his own sonata. There is an off-key jazzy whirlwind clangour to it and a complete separation from the romantic or pastoral stream. The music also recalls that of Ornstein and Cowell. When at peace it shows a sympathy with Satie's stillness. There is a little less paprika in the Deux Morceaux (quite a few French titles here) with, in the case of the first piece, a pervasive steady gravity. It is followed by a cheeky and offbeat Vivace. Then come four tableaux from Slaraffenland (the dreamland idyll of Cockaigne), alternately dreamy and gamin. The 1950 Sonatine is in three cut-glass movements lively and calmingly hymnal. The waltz from another ballet Tolv med posten is another dream-dance spun of peace and Gallic moonlight. The Four Children's Pieces from 1964 are stately and cooling; more objective than the early works. The Four Epigrammes reach confidently towards the peaceable, jazzy, stately and elfin-cheeky kingdoms of Ravel and Satie. En Glad Trompet - and five other pieces - are for children - imaginative, not condescending, tracing the boundary between music for children and music for adults written about childhood.

This is a comparatively short-playing anthology but attractive and not without fascination. Riisager's French-accents are strong and his music will appeal, without doubt, to anyone with a liking for Poulenc, and Ravel. Quite a discovery. Now lead the way to his orchestral music.

Rob Barnett



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