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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 PO/Matthias Aeschbacher
rec. Musikhuset Sønderborg, 22-27 Jan 2007. DDD
DACAPO 8.224718 [64:58]
Experience Classicsonline

At one time the boundaries of recorded music seemed fixed. Record companies would find new heroes to record the same works all safely placed inside the same security fence enclosing the Great and the Good. Radio orchestras pushed the fence further out but the conventions of commercial acceptability were largely unthreatened. In fact this picture was never entirely true but read back-copies of Gramophone from the 1950s, 1960s and to some extent the 1970s to follow the predominance of the known and the largely stagnant repertoire re-ploughing comes across strongly. That was a long time ago and several new generations of music-lovers have entered the lists since then. The present disc - the second in a series - is part of the wave moving outwards towards new peripheries.

Gram was a Danish composer born in Copenhagen. His activities were mainly as a teacher. His pupils included Riisager and Fernstrom. His works are not numerous: three symphonies are widely spread throughout his career: 1913, 1925, 1954. 

His Avalon, written in the depths of the Great War, is a short and bejewelled impressionistic piece with a warm French undertow. A fragile skein of sound is conjured from harp, celesta and avian woodwind and the broad flow of the music carried by the ample string choir. This is all more than a few degrees South than the Nielsen's Pan and Echo although a Sibelian shimmer in the strings towards the end tells us the Gram was alive to concert activity at the time. Pellegrini - with her Janet Baker tone - provides the drama and narrative flow in this picture of the same celtic-Arthurian wonderland that also drew an opera of the same name from Rutland Boughton. 

The two symphonies recorded here are compact - each at half an hour or so. The Second is in five separately-tracked sections with the central one being for soprano and orchestra. The composer designed this symphony for small orchestra as a single movement structure. A descending three note figure recurs throughout as does a sylvan pantheism. However the work does not lack in vigour as the romping fourth section proves. There is a thoughtfully musing epilogue - part woodland warm anthem in the manner of Glass's Fifth Symphony without being quite as grandiloquent. We also hear a brief icy Tapiola-style storm in its earlier stages. The piece is rounded out with contentment. 

Challenged in his retirement to write a further symphony, Gram wrote a Third that turned out to be very different from its predecessor of a quarter century earlier. This sturdy and finely crafted three movement piece includes some Sibelian and Tchaikovskian woodwind. The string writing in the first movement Moderato ends in slightly conventional muscular grandeur belled out by the brass. A sun-warmed peaceful meadow of an Adagio is distinguished by a general air of hush with horn and wind solos calling out. More intense and insistent music later disturbs the general air of calm. The concluding Allegro Marciale is full of vigorous detail and rustic-obstreperous activity beside the more refined mood in the first two movements. There is no declared programme. 

The notes by Claus Røllum-Larsen are full and to the point. The sung words are reproduced in original and in English translation in the booklet.

Rob Barnett

see also Review of Volume 1



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