This is a disc
that I’ve been awaiting for a long time. Ever since hearing
Rudolph Simonsen's Symphony No. 2 (Hellas) in the late
1980s, along with the even greater Symphony No. 5 of Louis
Glass, I have wanted to hear another orchestral work by this
composer. What I did not know when listening to this disc was
that I would find the concerto by Victor Bendix, previously
little more than a name to me, impressive as well.
Victor Bendix has
hovered at the peripheries of Danish music, but has never totally
disappeared, as did Simonsen. A few years ago Danacord released
a two-CD set of Bendix’s four symphonies (see review).
Some of his songs have also been recorded. His name has also
kept alive by the variety of scandals in which he was involved.
His Piano Concerto is a true virtuoso piece in the Romantic
manner, yet not without Danish elements-folkish and otherwise.
Brahms at first would seem to be the model, certainly in length,
but the real inspiration here is Schumann, whose unique style
of melody informs the concerto from its emotionally affecting
beginning. But Bendix’s way of developing his themes is uniquely
his own and he has an amazing talent for going from grandiose
to intimate and back. After a superbly prepared recapitulation
and coda to the first movement, the Intermezzo that is the
second movement develops music that is both folk-like and reminiscent
of the salon. Again this reminds one of Schumann, or of Elgar
in his miniaturist vein. There is some unexciting passagework
for the piano before things pick up at the end. The start of
the third movement may remind some of Gade, with whom Bendix
studied, unless Gade reminds you of Schumann and Mendelssohn.
This movement is urgent, almost agitated, but displays both
a gift for thematic development and creation of new material
that is rare in the last movement of a 19th century
concerto. Soon there are more agitated events leading to a
sonorous restatement of the main theme and an almost Griegian
coda. Both structurally and emotionally this is a concerto
of considerable profundity.
Rudolph Simonsen was
represented for many years on record only by the above-mentioned Hellas Symphony
(see review). Now
there is this concerto as well as a recent disc of chamber
pieces by the Kontra Quartet on ClassicO. In his lifetime Simonsen
was a very important figure in the musical world of Copenhagen,
but produced less and less after the mid-1930s as he became
more involved with his duties as Principal of the Royal Danish
Academy of Music. After the varied emotions of the Bendix concerto,
the Simonsen work may seem rather austere. Simonsen uses the
F minor tonality to create a sense of obliqueness that runs
right through the concerto, not totally disappearing even at
the very end. This atmosphere may remind those who know it
of the second and third movements of the Hellas symphony,
but the concerto has even more of this enigmatic quality.
After a mysterious
introduction, the first theme of the Simonsen concerto demonstrates
the serious, almost abstract quality described above. The second
theme is more pastoral, almost friendly, reminding one of the
concertos of Wiklund. Severity, though of a romantic type,
returns in the development section, where themes of a Nordic
cast are hammered motivically into the prevailing abstractness.
The coda resolves things formally, but emotionally the mood
remains mysterious. The thematic material of the second movement
is motivically related to that of the first; indeed the whole
piece is unified this way. The movement changes moods more
than once, becoming almost a lament and then reaching a muted
triumph before dying away slowly. The third movement is more
dramatic than what has gone before and also more stereotypically
Danish. The middle section is slower and more lyrical, but
as the movement progresses the conflict between the grip of
F minor and the natural tendency towards an affirmative conclusion
continues until the final, mostly triumphant, end.
Oleg Marshev shows
himself open to the wide range of moods in both these concertos
and demonstrates the technical ability to deal with them all.
His pianism is thoughtful, sometimes even a bit stolid, but
overall he presents truly convincing renditions. He is also
the soloist in the other Volumes in the Danish Piano Concertos
series and he is doing well to revive these concertos. Matthias
Aeschbacher provides close accompaniment to Marshev and shows
himself very capable at handling rapid changes of mood and
tone. The Aalborg Symfoniorkester is not quite up to this level,
especially in the brass section, which sometimes blares away
in a very disconcerting way. However, their woodwinds play
most beautifully, especially in the Bendix. The recording quality
is good overall, although the venue is not mentioned.
A very worthwhile
disc that I hope will help to bring to the fore two composers
who should be much better known.
see also review by Rob Barnett
Danish Piano Concertos series on DANACORD
Siegfried Langgaard and Rued Langgaard DACOCD 535 - see review
Winding and Emil Hartmann DACOCD 581 - see review
Malling, Ludvig Schytte, Siegfried Salomon DACOCD 597
- see review