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Knudåge RIISAGER (1897-1974)
Piano Music

Sonata, Opus 22 (1931) [14.38] Deux Morceaux (1933) 4 Pieces from Schlaraffenland, Opus 33 (1940) Sonatine (1950) Waltz from the ballet Tolv med posten, Opus 37 (1939) Fire Børneklaverstykker (1964) Quarte Épigrammes (1921) En glad trompet (1935) Christina Bjørkøe (piano) Rec. 13 December 2003, 31 January, 27 March 2004, Carl Nielsen Academy of Music, Copenhagen DA CAPO 8.226004 [52.47]


Knudåge Riisager, though born in Estonia, lived all his adult life in Copenhagen and needs to be described therefore as a Danish composer. He is one of the most important Danish composers of the 20th century, moreover, active in many fields including the larger-scale forms. For example, he wrote ten ballet scores which together represent his most significant achievement.

Like several other composers, Charles Ives among them, Riisager made his career outside music. He was an official in the Danish Ministry of Finance for well over 20 years. He used his time creatively and continued to write the music on which his reputation as a composer now rests.

Relatively untroubled by the trappings of a musical career, Riisager followed his own creative path, and in his own time he was regarded by many commentators as dangerously unorthodox. But in the fullness of time his achievements were more widely recognized, and he was awarded the status of Head of the Danish Composers’ Union in 1937, and of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Copenhagen from 1956.

Beyond his ballets, his five symphonies and numerous shorter compositions ensure his survival in his native repertory, and occasional performances beyond. While Riisager wrote a good deal of piano music, he was not himself a pianist. Yet listening to this enterprising recital by Christina Bjørkøe, this would not be apparent. The largest piece comes first, the Sonata composed in 1931 when Riisager’s style was at its most uncompromising and most distinctive. He seems particularly adept at setting a motor rhythm and developing complex counterpoints in relation to it, the biting harmonies intensifying the effect after the manner of Bartók’s Sonata. The crisply articulated playing of Christina Bjørkøe is perfectly judged in this regard, so too the distinct but not overpowering surrounding acoustic of the recording.

None of the other pieces in this collection breaks the ten-minute barrier, and if they are viewed independently rather than in groups, they are best described as miniatures. Therefore they are best sampled as such and as the composer intended, instead of at a single sitting comprising an artificially contrived complete recital, for such as not Riisager’s intention.

None of this music is at all well known, and Da Capo are therefore to be applauded for producing such a thorough and carefully compiled booklet, so painstakingly researched and written by Claus Røllum-Larsen. The music is never dull and always compelling, even if few of the rhythmic cells or quasi-melodies assume memorable status. This disc serves Riisager’s cause well, since the music is skillfully and sensitively performed, the recorded sound is good and the general production standards are high.

Terry Barfoot

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