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Anders KOPPEL (b. 1947)
Concerto No. 1 for Saxophone and Orchestra (1992, rev. 2004) [29:58]
Concerto No. 2 for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra (2003) [31:27]
Swan Song (1987, rev. 2005) [3:30]
Benjamin Koppel (saxophones)
Odense Symphony Orchestra/Nicolae Moldoveanu
rec. Carl Nielsen Hall, Odense, September-October 2005
DACAPO 8.226036 [64:50]
 


The Koppels represent a remarkable Danish artistic dynasty. The father Herman D. Koppel (1908–1998) was a distinguished composer whose music is now gaining some deserved recognition through commercial recordings. The two daughters Therese and Lone are pianist and singer respectively, whereas the two sons Thomas (1944–2006) and Anders are both composers with widely varied outputs to their credit. Not so long ago, I reviewed a disc of Thomas Koppel’s pieces for recorder (DaCapo 8.226021 - see review). Now comes another with Anders Koppel’s works for saxophone and orchestra played by Benjamin Koppel, Anders’ son; a family affair indeed! Besides these three works, Anders Koppel has composed several chamber works with or for saxophone and, quite recently, a Concerto for Saxophone, Piano and Orchestra (2005), too recent to be included on this disc.
 
The two Koppel saxophone concertos here are of joyfully eclectic, extrovert and exuberant music that does not take itself too seriously, although each has its darker moments. The First Concerto, composed in 1992, was drastically revised in 2004. We are told that it is longer than the original version, and that the scoring has been altered to make fuller use of a broader orchestral palette. The First Saxophone Concerto is the most eclectic of the two. The composer’s liking for exotic and jazzy rhythms blends with some slightly tongue-in-cheek Neo-classicism. The jovial character of the first movement is enhanced by the use of the brighter, more agile soprano instrument. This is particularly evident in the outer movements, for the central Adagio is a more serious affair in which the soloist changes to the darker alto saxophone more suited to the Mahlerian dirge-like mood of the movement. Anders Koppel’s earlier experience in jazz and rock also shows in the improvised cadenzas and in the rhythmic variety generously displayed; but there are also many imaginative touches throughout. The dreamy, ethereal opening of the first movement is particularly fine; but is rapidly offset by some joyful energy, obviously a hallmark of this composer.
 
The Second Saxophone Concerto is scored for alto saxophone and orchestra, and its five movements are played without a break. This certainly emphasises the symphonic structure of the work, although each movement is neatly characterised. Moreover, the music is much more integrated, less overtly eclectic than in the First Saxophone Concerto; and, as such, much more satisfying in musical terms. Again, there are many fine things such as the beautifully atmospheric, dream-like introduction, not unlike that of the First Saxophone Concerto. The emotional weight of the work again lies in the long central Largo. The other movements again offer ample scope for brilliant, virtuosic writing and imaginative scoring.
 
This attractive release ends with a delightful miniature. Swan Song was originally composed as the title theme for a radiophonic adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf’s well-known novel Niels Holgersen’s Wonderful Journey. As might be expected, the music is simple, tuneful, fairly straightforward but expertly done. The present version for alto saxophone, harp and strings is a real delight. Light music of the highest order, and quite beautiful in its own way.
 
These fine, attractive and enjoyable works certainly do not attempt to plumb any great depths; but they are superbly made by a composer who obviously has a flair for telling orchestral textures. The music is colourful, tuneful, full of lively rhythms; but is certainly not as simple as it sounds, for it has its shares of tricky bits splendidly negotiated by Benjamin Koppel and wholeheartedly supported by the Odense Symphony Orchestra who obviously enjoy themselves enormously. First class recording, a bit on the bright side but perfectly suited to Koppel’s heart-warming music.
 
Hubert Culot

 

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