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.
3 and 4
5 and 7
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
at 5:04 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'
Five years before the
Eighth Symphony, Bentzon completed 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
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.