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In 1997 it was said in a Danish study of Fernström
that the music of his teacher Peder Gram ‘is today quite forgotten’.
Not quite. I had been introduced to Gram’s First Symphony (1913) in
the 1980s through a Danish friend’s cassette off-air recording taken
down from the admirable Danish Radio. This was of a studio broadcast
by the Odense By-Orkester conducted by one of DR’s stalwarts, Karol
Stryja. This is the same Stryja who not much later made a name for
himself conducting a Polish Szymanowski orchestral cycle for Naxos.
Then in the early 1990s Danacord included a mono 1967 broadcast of
his Violin Concerto (1919) in Kai Lauren’s 10CD Danish
Violin Concertos set. The orchestra was the same as here but the
conductor was Carl von Garaguly. Clearly a man of considerable integrity
he forbade broadcasts of his music during the period 1937-1951 he headed
Danish Radio’s music division. He held many posts in the administration
of Danish music and this perhaps accounts for his works barely exceeding
forty opus numbers.
The Poème lyrique is strongly redolent of Louis Glass his predecessor
at the Dansk Konzert-Forening. In fact if you know the irresistibly warm writing
of Glass’s Summer Life suite and Fifth Symphony then this sun-bathed Delian
dream will seem very familiar. The Overture in C major is a charming overture
which softly updated traces its blood-line back to Tchaikovsky and Schumann.
Both composers, particularly the former, put in a stylistic appearance in the
First Symphony which he conducted in Berlin in 1914 and which was conducted by
Glass in Copenhagen in 1915. Its second movement is another warm reflective piece
with some pastoral parallels with the countryside evocations of Nielsen 3 and
4 and very tenderly orchestrated. There’s certainly a recognisably Nielsen accent
to the material of the finale but it is blended with the heady drama and romanticism
of Louis Glass. His woodwind writing is often avian and that’s certainly the
case in this symphony. The moods of the music are changeable but the changes
do not always feel inevitable and for this reason his most ambitious works, as
far as I know them to date, do not carry the ineluctable conviction of Glass.
However there is much here that is attractive and I certainly want to hear the
other two symphonies. The Shakespeare Prologue is a discursive piece which in
a series of quickly achieved tableaux melting from one to another seems to sketch
in mood and character. We are not told which play Gram had in mind but my money
is on Romeo and Juliet although the glade and shade ending might also
suggest Midsummer Night’s Dream; the music has that passion, playfulness
and desolate tragedy. There is some lovely writing here. Rob Barnett
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