The Danish composer
Niels Viggo Bentzon is not a stranger to recordings. There
are three significant discs of orchestral music on the Marco
Polo/Da Capo label and all have been reviewed here. In addition
his gargantuan Det Temperede Klaver for solo piano are out
on the ClassicO label recorded by the composer himself:
There are also recordings on Danacord and Kontrapunkt (see
links to reviews below).
Bentzon was astonishingly
productive: 24 symphonies, 14 string quartets and 25 piano
sonatas amongst much else. The first symphony dated from
1942; the last from 1994.
Eighth Symphony is in four movements. The first runs
to almost eighteen minutes. It instantly establishes, through
a discreet drum-roll, a bleak landscape. There are Shostakovichian
interjections and rolling asides. Side-drum interruptions
link us tersely with Nielsen and there are resemblances
to the mighty Carl. Bentzon is full of surprises for example
listen for the galloping triumphant music with silvery highlights
contributed by triangle. At 14:50
the eloquent yet tense violins suggest a link with Vaughan
Williams' Sixth Symphony while the stinging violence that
closes the movement links with the writing of William Schuman.
The Allegro Molto in its cool oboe serenading reminds us
of Nielsen 4 and 5 in their moments of pastoral loneliness.
The oboe song over a strong pizzicato is a strong Nielsen-like
'signature'. The andante tranquillo is serenity itself
but once again, like Nielsen, this is not music that offers
perfect peace. Quiet it may be but it does not administer
quietude in the benediction of its long high violin lines.
The fast-trudging and shuddering music of 4.32 onwards is
exciting and distinctive - very tense. My, does this composer
enjoy twisting the tension turn by turn. At 6.44 the raindrop
pizzicato recalls with remarkable fidelity the orchestral
writing of Alan Hovhaness. The final allegro rushes away
in a conspiratorial rustling like a cross between Herrmann's
Psycho driving music, Waxman's string Sinfonietta and the
whispering ostinato from Luonnotar. This breaks out
into rushing spleen before a heavily energetic discharge
of power explodes recalling the explosive outbursts in Shostakovich
symphonies 13 and 14. The symphony ends in whispering violin
whirlwinds and recollections of the Nielsen-like blasts
of energy unleashed early in the work mixed with the triumphant
tramp of Vaughan Williams' 4th symphony.
Five years before the
Eighth Symphony Bentzon complete his Symphonic Variations.
Older hands will know - or know of - this work because it
was on a 1972 Turnabout LP (TV 34374S) coupled with his
Chamber Concerto for eleven instruments. There the
performers were the Royal Danish Orchestra conducted by
Jerzy Semkow. The Symphonic Variations were premiered on
10 December 1952
conducted by Paul Kletzki conducting the Danish Radio Symphony
Orchestra. It was this work that gave his name international
currency. It was taken up by Celibidache and even received
a studio premiere on the Third Programme from Sargent on
13 March 1959 (we can guess what Sargent thought of it).
The Symphonic Variations
comprise a molto moderato theme and ten variations. The
music is tougher than that for the Eighth Symphony although
some movements are more accessible such as the Palladian
raindrop peace of Variation II. The gawky Darmstadt dissonance
of Variation III contrasts with the Hilding Rosenberg-style
off-beat stomp of Variation IV - try Rosenberg's Sixth Symphony
(now on Phono Suecia but once also on Turnabout coupled
with Blomdahl 3 - TV34318S). Variation VI sidles up and
is vaguely threatening. It is quiet but definitely harbours
menace in its wings. As Mr Foreman says this is an exercise
in desolation and cold comfort. The work ends in an impressive
protesting growl, a howl of the brass and those thunderous
hammer-blows of the type Sibelius used to end his Fifth
Symphony and Nielsen used to launch his Third.
The orchestra is made
up of seniors from the academies of music in Aarhus in Denmark and Goteborg in Sweden; what
a delightful cross-border initiative! The names of the members
of the orchestra are listed on pages 16 and 17 of the booklet.
The orchestra perform
impressively and with complete professionalism. Strings
have fine unanimity, body, glow and intonation while the
brass, woodwind and hard-pressed percussion are magnificent.
The project is a credit to the orchestra and to Douglas
Bostock whose open-minded approach to unusual repertoire
is invigorating and should set the pace for the many ‘stars’
who too easily succumb to predictable orthodoxy. Any chance
of some more Bentzon symphonies?
The agreeably ubiquitous
Lewis Foreman provides the notes for this release and helpfully
makes many BBC connections as well as providing a wide range
of information and context.
Det Temperede Klaver
Symphonies 3 and 4
Symphonies 5 and 7