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Emil REESEN (1887-1964)
Grønlandsk Folketone (1934) [6.56]
Polkina Fra Gudindernes Strid (1933) [2.53]
Trianon, Suite I Gammel Stil (1941) [9.23]
Variationer over et tema af Fr. Schubert (1928) [16.49]
Agnether Og Havmanden (1929]
Jeg Gik Mig Ud en Sommerdag (1929) [2.43]
Gaucho-Suite (1931) [7.03]
Himmerland (1925) [13.24]; Festmarch (1937) [3.41]
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra/Bo Holten
rec. Symfonien, Aalborg, 12-16 June 2006.
DACAPO 8.226031 [67.29]

I must admit to having felt somewhat embarrassed when I received this CD. Here was a composer of whom I had never heard. On reading the back of the cardboard case I felt even more embarrassed. Reesen was a contemporary of Nielsen but there is very little common ground between them except that the latter was not averse to some successful light music at times. I will quote from the essay “Reesen was a jack-of-all trades, composing everything from film melodies to operettas and ballets for the Royal Theatre, and it was all typified by his masterly craftsmanship and great melodic talent.” The music on this CD demonstrates all of the above-mentioned skills across many differing genres.
The Grønlandsk Folketone (Greenland Folk Poem) is a lovely and thoughtful little tone poem to start the disc off. It is played with real affection and sensitivity. Then there’s the little, fun Polka from a very successful ballet. It was resurrected for a guest appearance the composer made with the orchestra of the Norddeutscher Rundfunk. We are reminded that Reesen was associated with Danish ballet for much of his life.
The Trianon ( a private residence for the royal family set in the the park of Versailles palace) Suite consists of three movements, all in a quasi-neo-classical style of great charm. This blends baroque with a sort of merry minstrelsy.
The disc moves on swiftly to the Variations on a rather obscure theme of Schubert, the longest and most ambitious work on the disc, It is apparently the most ambitious piece that Reesen composed. The theme is from a little known work with the catchy title ‘Divertissement sur des motifs originaux français’ D823: scored for four hands at one piano. It’s a simple and delightful melody and well chosen by Reesen as it has some memorable sequential patterning. It is treated to every possible type of variation technique.
Rather less consequential but very tuneful are the two little pieces ‘Agnethe og Havmanden’ (Agnethe and the mermaid). This has a gorgeously glittering beginning with its sul ponticello and muted strings. Then there’s ‘Jeg Gik Mig ud en Sommerdag’ (I walked out on a summer’s day). Both use Danish folk melodies which are here orchestrated with originality and polish.
The Gaucho Suite falls into three dance-type movements including an opening Pasodouble and a Tango. It is light music certainly but none the worse for that. It is in fact ballet music, apparently a very successful cowboy ballet, this was yet another of Reesen’s skills and musical adventures.
The symphonic poem Himmerland (Homeland) is my favourite work of the ones offered  here. It is effectively a Danish rhapsody, to possibly counteract those by Alfvén and Holst. It has become his most performed composition although like all of his music it has never managed to leap the North Sea. In using traditional melodies in a sort of medley Reesen does nothing original but his orchestration and structuring is fascinating and rewards repeated hearings.
Before mentioning the last work on the disc I must add what a fine recording this is and how affectionately the individual works are handled by orchestra and Bo Holten alike. If you have only thought of him as a choral conductor - vis-a-vis the BBC Singers - then like me, you will find the dedicated way he has tackled these works a revelation. This is not least in the last piece, the happy little ‘Fest March’ a joyous and appropriate ending to an excellently planned programme which could be played through without a break. What manner of composer can encompass all of these moods and write for fun as well as for erudition. The answer is an extremely talented and professional one. This march is described in the booklet as a ‘Royal March’ and the best Danish march ever.
There’s an excellent essay by Jens Cornelius on the life of Emil Reesen. It is colourfully written and is supplemented with a portrait photograph. Cornelius adds a detailed but not too technical essay on the featured works. They are not however discussed in the order recorded, and for this reason the notes are a little difficult to navigate.. Finally there is some thoughtful background notes on the performers.
As you will have gathered I have been especially pleased and surprised by Emil Reesen. He’s my kind of composer - imaginative, versatile, highly professional in many fields, able to write music for the ‘common man’ and able to write wonderfully for orchestral musicians to enjoy. My only reservation, on this showing, is that he never quite stretches himself into bigger forms. He does experiment but it’s limited by his over-willingness to take the easy option: structurally, technically and imaginatively. Nevertheless, the music heard here is superbly played in a warm acoustic and most enjoyable for all listeners.
Gary Higginson


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