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Danish Piano Concertos IV
Victor BENDIX (1851-1926) Piano Concerto in G Minor Op. 17 (1884) [38:06]
Rudolph SIMONSEN (1889-1947) Piano Concerto in F Minor (1915) [30:42]        
Oleg Marshev (piano)
Aalborg Symfoniorkester/Matthias Aeschbacher
rec. Aalborg, Denmark, 21-27 January 2005

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 been 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.
William Kreindler

see also review by Rob Barnett


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Danish Piano Concertos series on DANACORD
Siegfried Langgaard and Rued Langgaard DACOCD 535 - see review
August Winding and Emil Hartmann DACOCD 581 - see review
Otto Malling, Ludvig Schytte, Siegfried Salomon DACOCD 597 - see review



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