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
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.
see also Review
of Volume 1