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Peder GRAM (1881-1956)
Orchestral Works Vol. 1
Overture in C major, op. 21 (1921) [9:57]
Poème lyrique, op. 9 (1911) [9:06]
Symphony no. 1, op. 12 (1914) [31:38]
Prologue to a Drama by Shakespeare, op. 27 (1928) [13:22]
South Jutland Symphony Orchestra/Matthias Aeschbacher
rec. Musikhuset Sønderborg, 9-13 January 2006. DDD
DACAPO 8.224713 [64:05]


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Rob Barnett
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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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