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Peder GRAM (1881-1956)
Orchestral Works - vol. 2
Avalon for soprano and orchestra op. 16 (1917) [5:50]
Symphony No. 2 op. 25 (1925) [27:47]
Symphony No. 3 op. 35† (1954) [31:21]
Andrea Pellegrini (mezzo)
Danish Philharmonic Orchestra/Matthias Aeschbacher
rec. Musikhuset SÝnderborg, 22-27 Jan 2007. DDD
DACAPO 8.224718 [64:58]


Experience Classicsonline

If you like the music of Carl Nielsen, Sibelius and Debussy then youíre in for a real treat with this disk. Born in Copenhagen, Gram studied at the Leipzig Conservatory, then in Dresden, in the early years of the century, before settling in his home town. Alongside his composition he undertook much work for many musical organizations in Denmark, the Danish Composersí Society, the Arts Committee of the Danish Olympic Committee -imagine any government even considering having such an organization today! - and many more before embarking on his final position, Head of the Music Department of what is now Danish Radio. Because of all these commitments, Gramís works are few in number, only 35 opus numbers, but on the strength of this disk they are well worth hearing.

Although it is obviously in five sections, Gram thought of his Second Symphony as a single span, and so it is. Staring in a declamatory manner with a large gesture for the orchestra, the music becomes contemplative, only slightly raising its voice, moving effortlessly into a ridiculously short, but very beautiful, oboe solo. The heart of the work is a similarly short movement, a setting of a poem by Erik Stokkebye for mezzo. Delicately scored, with a prominent part for celesta, this is very impressionistic, but none the worse for that. A tersely argued fast movement breaks the spell to be succeeded by a short epilogue which winds down the music, bar one climax, and brings everything to a most beautiful and serene close.

There is a lovely story accompanying the creation of Gramís Third Symphony. When he retired from Danish Radio, in 1951, the Danish Radio Orchestra presented Gram with a finely bound music book. It contained the inscription Peder Gram: Symphony No.3 and the pages of the book were empty, the idea being that the composer would write a new work for what had, effectively, been his orchestra for 14 years. He readily obliged and the work was completed two years before his death. Itís a more traditional work compared to the Second Symphony, in three tightly knit movements, and thereís more than a passing nod in the direction of Sibelius and Carl Nielsen, but in the main the voice is Gramís own. The orchestration is slimmer than that of the earlier work, more neo-classical in feel, with clean, taut, lines, and is very colourful. The working out of the material is sometimes a bit stolid, the material being not quite as memorable as in the earlier work. Itís unfortunate that these two Symphonies were placed side by side for it has done the later work some disservice, but if you donít listen to one immediately after the other there will be no problems.

For me, the prize is the short song Avalon which opens the disk. Impressionistic and very restrained, beautifully laid out for the orchestra and voice, it makes a big impression in such a short time.

The performances are excellent. A lot of time has obviously been put into the making of this disk. I cannot praise Andrea Pellegrini too highly for her brief appearances are a real highlight and she sings with a pure voice, free of wobble or affectation. The orchestra is on top form and obviously relishes playing this music. There is some confusion over who is exactly playing the music Ė the cover (front and back) of the beautifully produce gatefold sleeve, and the disk itself, credits the Danish Philharmonic Orchestra, but the biography credits the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra (SÝnderjyllands Symfoniorkester). Some time ago, when touring abroad, it used a slightly different name but it is properly known as the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra. Remember the correct name Ė itís a good orchestra.

The booklet gives full and very informative notes on the music and performers, in English, German and Danish, but is lacking a photo of the composer, which is a shame.

Perhaps Peder Gram isnít up there with Carl Nielsen and Rued Langgaard, and thereís nothing here which will make the Little Mermaid jump up and dance with joy, but this is well written music, tuneful and easily approachable and how often do we need that today?

Bob Briggs

see also Review by Rob Barnett and Review of Volume 1


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