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Herman D. KOPPEL (1908-1998)
Composer and Pianist: Volume 5
CD 1
Herman D. KOPPEL (1908-1998)
Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 13 (1931-2) [20:33]
Herman D. Koppel (piano)
DR Symphony Orchestra/Aksel Wellejus
rec. concert, Radio House Copenhagen, 17 May 1982
Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 63 (1963) [21:34]
Herman D. Koppel (piano)
Odense Symphony Orchestra/Aksel Wellejus
rec. concert, Odense City Hall, 27 May1963
Paw (1959) [7:50]
South Jutland Symphony Orchestra/Aksel Wellejus
rec. South Jutland Hall, 22 January1980
Palle March (1949) [2:55]
DR Sinfonietta/Aksel Wellejus
rec. radio studio broadcast, 17 May 1982
3rd Movement of Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 30 (1936-37) [10:19]
Nikolaj Koppel and Herman D. Koppel (pianos)
rec. concert, Tivoli Concert Hall, 17 July 1994 CD 2
Thomas KOPPEL (1944-2006)
Visions fugitives for Piano and Orchestra[12:59]
Herman D. Koppel (piano)
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra/Jens Schrøder
rec. Aalborg Hall, 12 October 1976
Anders KOPPEL (b. 1947)
Concerto for Piano, Strings and Percussion (1993)
Herman D. Koppel (piano)
Amadeus Chamber Orchestra/Agnieszka Duczmal
rec. Radio House Copenhagen, 31 July 1993
Bernhard CHRISTENSEN (1906-2004)
The Twelve Tones (1987) [9:55]
Herman D. Koppel (piano)
Per NØRGÅRD (b. 1932)
Nine Friends (1985)
Herman D. Koppel (piano)
rec. Radio House Copenhagen, 11 April 1986
DANACORD DACOCD569-70 [62:41 + 73:05] 


Experience Classicsonline

I was first impressed by Herman D. Koppel’s music on a Da Capo CD which has the flute, cello, and complete piano Concerto No.2 with the Odense Symphony Orchestra. The  collection for this review, the fifth in a series which has already been covered on these pages
(see reviews of Volume 1, Volume 2 & Volume 3 and Volume 4), also contains examples of Koppel’s touch as a piano soloist both with and without orchestral backing.

CD 1 has the first of Herman D. Koppel’s piano concertos in a live radio concert performance, which has one or two cracked and split notes to add character to its otherwise powerful performance. This work has a shadow of Stravinsky over its musical content, but is none the worse for that. The first movement has a great deal of drive and rhythm, and is energetically championed by its creator, 50 years after the fact. The second half of the work is introduced by an Andante quieto which has some hint of Nielsen in its undulating shapes and harmonic relationships. This is directly followed by an Allegro, introduced by a kind of hammering interruption from the piano. This piece has all the energy and optimism of a work written by a younger composer, and while there are numerous identifiable influences and an arguable thinness in some of the thematic ideas this is a work which can be savoured as a kind of wake-up call.

The Piano Concerto No.4 was recorded in 1963 in glorious mono, and is another live concert performance. There are some strong echoes of Bartók in the first movement, helped along by the addition of percussion – from gentle brushstrokes like the notes of a soft cymbal or sparkling triangle, to full-blown storms. Indeed, it is this rather pictorial element which allows Koppel to break away from Bartók, though not for long, to my ears at least. The Andante tranquillo has that very strong sense of a nocturnal atmosphere, with the 12-tone origins of the musical material providing a sense of tonal free-drift. A jaunty, scherzo character infuses the final Vivace, which has some nice touches of subtlety in the orchestration, though these are somewhat indistinct in the balance of the recording – the entire orchestra being well hidden behind the raised piano lid. I have no doubt that this must have been recorded elsewhere with more clarity, but couldn’t find anything currently available. That this recording inspires one to seek further says enough about the quality of the music – it may not be to everyone’s taste, but has plenty of intricacy and interest and is never dull.

After the mono of the previous work, the Mantovani strings and percussion which open Paw in glorious stereo hit one like a seventh wave. This is an orchestral suite from a children’s film of 1959, and has plenty of impressionistic and exotic colour which no doubt reflect the nature of the film. These are descriptive miniatures, and charming enough. Like the other work of film origin, Palle March, these pieces are about as representative of Shostakovich in film mode – certainly effective, but not particularly memorable.

Disc 1 ends with a two piano version of the third movement of Koppel’s Piano Concerto No.2. Again, the spirit of Bartók is revived, and enhanced by the two-piano sonorities in this version. This is pretty unrelenting stuff at times, and may hold some clues as to why the work was less well received than some of Koppel’s other concertos. As a virtuosic concert work it does however have an unstoppable and spectacular character, and the players certainly seem to be relishing every note. This may not inspire you to seek out the aforementioned Da Capo CD, but with piano v. orchestra the roles are of course far better defined, and as a complete piece I would still recommend this as one of Koppel’s more powerful works.

CD 2 is dedicated to Herman D. Koppel the pianist, and opens with a work by Thomas Koppel, son of Herman D. The title Visions fugitives is of course related to Prokofiev’s collection for piano solo, but the idiom of Thomas Koppel’s work could hardly be different. The unorthodox orchestra, with double winds, brass and percussion pitted against eight string players creates a strange atmosphere, at once symphonic and overwhelming, but with the ability to revert suddenly to corners of restless intimacy. The music has a certain aleatoric character, not with quite the sense of abandon created by Penderecki, but with a comparable dramatic flavour.

Anders Koppel, younger son of Herman D., shows another entirely different approach in his Concerto for Piano, Strings and Percussion. There are relationships of the antique and the modern which call Schnittke to mind, and elements of the jazz, folk and popular which dilute the drama and often give the score a directly cinematic feel. This sense of passing imagery is in a way confirmed by the composer’s inclusion of extra-musical associations such as gunshot effects and whistles in the wild-west train journey of the final fifth movement, ratchets, car horns et al. This is however not superficial music, and works a strangely compelling spell, or at least it did on this listener. There is an attractive Nordic honesty in the melancholy of many of the melodic lines, approaching but not falling into some of the more syrupy writing of someone like Nino Rota.

Bernhard Christensen was a lifelong friend of Koppel, and The Twelve Tones relates somewhat to the jazz-inspired works the two of them created in the form of oratorios for schools. The jazz elements are clearly present in the rhythmic syncopations and harmonic progressions in the piece. These sometimes tend to poke through coyly rather than turning the piece into a ‘standard’, and elsewhere are given freer rein. The work is subtitled ‘Passacaglia (variations on an ostinato bas built on twelve tones)’, and this cyclic feel has a sense of eternal sequential undulation. More fun than profound, this work does however have some serious working-out of interesting ideas, and the technical demands clearly make maximum demands of the pianist’s octogenarian hands.

Per Nørgard was a piano pupil of Herman D. Koppel while studying composition at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. His Nine Friends can be played in differing combinations, but are presented here in ascending order, with the general difficulty of the pieces increasing as the work as a whole progresses. In this way one might see the works as a sort of mini ‘Mikrokosmos’ or set of studies covering various aspects of piano playing. Not that the lower numbers are particularly easy, but the textures and expressive demands increase, and the final four pieces are demanding in the extreme. Herman D. Koppel’s reputation as a pianist is established, and is in no way tarnished by these recordings. I know Nørgard’s work quite well however, and would expect a bit more life and bounce in some of these pieces if looking for a definitive rendition. If, however, I was able to play the piano as well now, as opposed to in my late 70s as Mr. Koppel was when this recording was made, then I would consider myself thrice blessed.

Once again, Danacord has produced a fascinating and otherwise inaccessible record of one musician’s remarkable achievements. There is a variability in recording quality, but in the main these are good recordings. Live blips and a bit of tape hiss are never a great problem in my book, unless the opposite is promised, and even the balance problems of the Piano Concerto No.4 are well compensated for in terms of energy and atmosphere. The booklet notes and additional photos are all well written and filled with plenty of detail and insight. Onwards! – as is the title of No.7 of Nine Friends – to volume 6!

Dominy Clements


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