Danacord is very much
what Chandos used to be. There was a
time when hardly a week went past without
another British symphony featuring in
the new releases columns of the musical
press. The complete symphonies of Bax,
Rubbra, Alwyn, Parry and Stanford were
eagerly awaited and duly delivered.
Chandos now seem to have by and large
decided against British symphonic music
(Berkeley notwithstanding) – not so
good for the British music enthusiast
who still waits for symphonies by Baines,
Dunhill and Bate to mention but three.
However Danish music suffers no less
at the hands of the majority of that
country’s CD producers.
Jesper Buhl has written
a long essay to accompany this present
release. Most of it concentrates on
the work of the Omsk Philharmonic Orchestra
and the recording of these symphonies.
However no small part is taken up with
a very courageous shot across the bows
of the musical establishment in Denmark
- and by implication worldwide too.
He complains that Danish
orchestral music from before the Second
World War occupied an extremely small
proportion of currently available CDs.
He suggests that music critics seem
to be hostile to ‘all symphonic music
not bearing the hallmark: "composed
by Carl Nielsen’" and this prejudice
made the present recording of Bendix’s
works all the more difficult. He mentioned
the relative lack of interest and hostility
with which Danish reviewers received
the Rued Langgaard symphonic cycle.
Yet what is heartening is that outside
Denmark, Buhl has noted considerable
interest and enthusiasm for these post-romantic
works. In fact the first review of Langgaard
was produced in Poland – away from the
‘domestic mud-slinging’. Furthermore
he explains that no financial or even
moral support was forthcoming from Danish
musical institutions towards the production
costs of this present CD set.
In many ways this experience
is familiar to British listeners too.
Few concert promoters would wish to
perform works by Bainton, Holbrooke
or Gipps, but would always be prepared
to endorse the potboilers of Ludwig
Van and Rach - Not that I decry their
music. CD companies - with a few honourable
exceptions - seem keen to churn out
version after version of the Top 100
Just for the record,
there is one version of Bendix’s Third
Symphony compared to at least 182
versions of Beethoven Third!
It is fortunate that
we have committed record producers like
Jesper Buhl and we ought to support
him and his company by purchasing CDs
that certainly seem to this listener
at least, to be great contributions
to Western romantic and post-romantic
music. To be fair to Chandos, though,
they did release a cycle of Neils Gade
Symphonies a few years ago.
This is not the place
to write a detailed synopsis of Victor
Bendix’s life and work. Nor is it appropriate
to consider each of these symphonies
The title of the First
Symphony (1882) immediately suggests
a number of parallels to the musically
literate. Some of these references predate,
and some post-date the work. One thinks
of Franz Liszt’s tone poem, ‘Ce qu’on
entend sur la montagne’ for example.
Then there is Vincent D’Indy’s peregrination
to the high places. Of course Richard
Strauss’s Alpine Symphony (1915)
came a touch later and is less classically
structured. The present work is based
on a poem by Holger Drachman called
‘Mountain Climbing’. However
the sleeve-notes suggest that the poem
may actually have been inspired by the
music – so who knows? In some ways I
liked this symphony the best of all.
Perhaps it is the slow introduction
that impressed me most?
The Second Symphony
carries the pseudo-programmatic title
of ‘Sounds of Summer from
South Russia’ It is of course perfectly
possible to dump these images and listen
to this work as a straight piece of
absolute music. In fact the liner notes
suggest that there is really no programme
at all. It was possibly written after
the composer had been on a tour of Russia
and absorbed the local musical cultures.
However, it seems that there is a genuine
doubt as to whether he actually visited
Russia in the first place! This Symphony
proved to be the most popular of the
Bendix cycle. There is a school of thought
that suggests this work does not quite
carry itself off because of the similarity
of the movements. Three of them are
in the same key of D major. Further,
virtually the entire composition is
written in a ‘persistently pastoral
mood.’ Of course this is not entirely
true - for example listen to the finale
with its impressive last few pages.
But the generalisation perhaps holds
good. Yet the bottom line is that the
music is extremely attractive and often
quite moving. Rob Barnett has discerned
echoes or pre-echoes of Glazunov and
Hugo Alfvén in this music. For
my own part I could almost be convinced
that Elgar had heard some of this music.
The work is in the conventional four
The Third Symphony
is a bit more experimental than the
preceding works. There are only three
movements here and they have an unusual
balance. The first is quite restrained,
the second is a ‘fantastic’ scherzo
and the finale is in fact the slow movement.
Rob Barnett has likened some of this
music to that of Charles Villiers Stanford
and this comparison bears examination.
Once again the first movement contains
some of the best music – in fact it
is an extremely beautiful meditation
on who knows what? The second movement
is subtitled ‘Multicoloured Pictures’
and is apparently based on ‘shifting
street scenes’ – but once again it is
not necessary to apply this imagery
to enjoy what is a really fine scherzo.
The last movement is an 'elegie' and
lasts for some 13 minutes. I think that
this is my favourite moment on the entire
two CD set. It is not possible to say
that it sounds like this composer
or that – it is just Bendix writing
some extremely beautiful and moving
music. The entire work deserves recognition
as one of the great 19th
century symphonies. Yet I doubt that
one music listener in 10,000 will ever
get to grips with it – which is a crying
The Fourth Symphony
probably does not stand much chance
of universal recognition. For one thing
it has never been published. The CD
notes point out that Victor Bendix was
extremely disappointed at the ‘cool’
reception of this work and that no one
seemed keen to engrave the score. It
was dedicated to Bendix’s wife Dagmar
and was composed in 1906. It appears
that critics regard this work as transitional
– the only problem being that it went
nowhere! There were to be no more symphonies
although the composer was to live for
another twenty years. Yet in my opinion
it is not a throwaway work. I think
it will require a bit more effort from
listeners - this one included - to get
to the bottom of what Bendix is trying
to say. Yet in some ways this work is
nearer to our own times – there are
glorious hints of the romantic Elgar.
Bendix certainly does not wear his heart
on his sleeve here – but there is much
that is passionate and sometimes intense.
Perhaps there is a little stylistic
difficulty – Brahms can be discerned
– almost literally at one point: Nielsen
was obviously influential. The second
movement is perhaps the most challenging
– being quite different to much that
we have heard in the previous three
symphonies. It is not that it is modernist
– it is just that much more ‘spare’
in texture. Yet the third movement restores
our image of the composer as a romantic.
This is a particularly gorgeous movement.
The solo passages for horn are toe-curling!
However I agree with Rob that the last
movement seems to lack inspiration although
the big tune is actually quite impressive
– yet the peroration never really arrives
and the symphony ends weakly. In the
round, I feel that this work is a little
This is a fine conspectus
of Victor Bendix’s Symphonies.
It is a great cycle – even if there
are a number of places in the fifteen
movements where interest tends to flag.
This is not a problem – as I find this
to be true of many composers who claim
greater fame than Bendix.
As I noted above these
four symphonies will probably never
become ‘popular’ – I can hardly imagine
‘Classic FM’ playing a single movement
from them – unless David Mellor discovers
them. So these works will remain the
preserve of a few enthusiasts and other
listeners who dare to look beyond the