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Rued LANGGAARD (1893-1952)
The Sixteen Symphonies, Drapa, Sphinx, Hvidbjerg-Drapa, Danmarks Radio, Res Absurda!?

Inger Dam-Jensen (mezzo); Johan Reuter (baritone); Lars Petersen (tenor); Per Salo (piano); Danish National Choir; Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
rec. Danish Radio Concert Hall, August 1998 – June 2008. DDD
with financial support of Langgaard Fonden, Augustinus Fonden and Gangstedfonden. Recorded in cooperation with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation
Detailed track-listing at end of review
DACAPO 6.200001 [7 SACDs: 60:30 + 65:43 + 57:31 + 56:54 + 53:35 + 63:41 + 61:43]

 

Experience Classicsonline


Langgaard had considerable success in Europe's concert halls in the first decade of the last century. This was cruelly short-lived as fashion and ‘wisdom’, received and embraced, trampled his music down. His unrestrained pot-shots at Nielsen and at Danish state broadcasting for its neglect of his work may not have helped.

Two waves of irony followed on. The first was that during the period 1960-80 Danish Radio broadcast many of the symphonies in studio or concert performances. These went around the world, courtesy of messrs Telefunken, Grundig, Revox, Tandberg, Philips, Sony and Akai. They in effect kick-started the Langgaard revival in parallel with a meagre handful of 12 inch vinyl. Secondly, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation are now the instigators and supporters of the present great endeavour now brought to full harvest. As for Langgaard’s Nielsen resentment it is worth remembering that on the international stage Nielsen's own music did not travel significantly until the 1950s - again after that composer's death.

This Dacapo series has been issued piece-meal from 2001 to 2008 on individual discs. It is now the only single box set of the complete Langgaard symphonies and the only way of hearing the two versions of Symphony No. 5. Its competition is oblique, indirect and fragmentary. Such as it is – and there are some wonderful performances there - it comes from Danacord and Chandos. Danacord enlisted Ilya Stupel and the Artur Rubinstein Symphony Orchestra for recordings of all 16 and a few of the shorter pieces in thwe 1980s to early 1990s. There are also individual CDs of a small clutch of the symphonies from Chandos. The Dacapo cycle differs from these in that Dausgaard used the corrected edition of the symphonies issued by Edition Samfundet – Rued Langgaard Udgaven. The involvement of Bendt Viinholt Nielsen - who provides the notes and editorial supervision - ensures contemporary authority. Dacapo offer what amounts to the definitive edition. It could perhaps have been a dull academic affair but not with Dausgaard at the helm. We must look to this conductor as a beaming prospect in the international orchestral stakes.

Many of the Langgaard symphonies sound as if they were written many years earlier; at least going by the received stylistic orthodoxy. Then again Langgaard was hardly ever one for contemporary fashion except perhaps in the early years of the century. The first of his two style components is a euphoric and amplified reflection of Schumann's orchestral music – that nostalgic embrace with high romance also beloved in some measure of Lange-Muller and J.P.E. Hartmann. The second is revolutionary and equally out of kilter with its times. It can be heard in such works as the Insectarium, the Sinfonia Interna, the opera-cantata Antikrist and the choral-orchestral Music of the Spheres - all works from the period 1915-1923. Langgaard seemed nobly unconcerned by criticism of pastiche anachronism on one hand and of alien avant-garde-ism on the other.

The Fourth Symphony was the first of the Sixteen in what I will call ‘modern times’ to put Langgaard on anyone's map. There was a DMA LP and then an EMI LP of the symphony, coupled, I seem to recall, with some Lange-Muller. This came out in 1973. It was the first Langgaard I heard. That version did not impress me greatly at the time. It was only when a friend lent me some reel-to-reel tapes of the mid-period symphonies (10-11) that I began to take to Langgaard with his Schumann-like voluptuously ecstatic cresting sunrises. Dausgaard gives the Fourth, which ranges over an autumn landscape, a world-beating performance. It is full of gusty downpours, thunderstorms, sunlight and repose. The bell-evocation in section 12 is strikingly cold and gaunt; seeming to look forward to Grimes. It is staggering to think that this piece was written during the Great War by a composer still only 23.

Then come two versions of the Fifth Symphony. In fact four exist. The original was an orchestral fantasia entitled Summer Legend Drama. The two versions recorded here are the later ones in which the music emerged as a symphony. The first is based on Summer Legend Drama and receives its world premiere recording here. Once again nature is the stepping-off point. A language partly shaped by Schumann and partly by Wagner makes for a powerful work. There is even a strong suggestion of Elgar from time to time. Dausgaard keeps things buzzing along and would make a revelatory Bax conductor. Listen to the solo violin which writhes its way through the soft wailing of the orchestra. This utterly original music is punctuated with shudders from Tapiola and from the upheavals of Nielsen's Symphonies 4 and 5.

The second edition recorded here is entitled Steppenatur and it is this version that you are most likely to have encountered before. This is very different and I think far less effective than the first version. The principal weakness is the unrounded and unconvincing ending. Great Bachian fugal patterns stride forward with the sort of Beethovenian stompings that were soon to be transfigured in the Nielsen Third Symphony. Other elements include Sibelian chatter, Griegian regret, Mahlerian ländler (III) and a pastoral summer serenading of the type familiar from Nielsen's Springtime on Fyn.

The Sixth Symphony represents a combination of the type of Franckian luxuriance to be found in Psyché, a peaceable Finzian 'kingdom' as in the Thema Version 1, the orientally-challenging Turandot and the swerving unpredictability of a Tippett-like fugue (Variation II). It is no wonder that Calum Macdonald in his still extremely readable book 'Opus Est' (Kahn & Averill, 1979) placed him alongside such 'outsiders' as Havergal Brian whose own 20 minute symphonies have something of the same feeling though more gawky in expression. Nielsen's influence can be discerned in the Sonata movement. The work’s Danish title is variously translated as 'Heavens Asunder' and 'The Heaven Storming'.

Järvi (Chandos) is fleeter in the Sixth Symphony and does not have the poise of the Dausgaard. The sound on the Chandos is a shade superior. Stupel's recording bands the symphony in one segment as does Danacord's ADD Frandsen from 1977. There is little to choose between them if you can live with the light speckle of coughs from the Danish audience in the Frandsen, specifically in Thema I.

The Seventh has the air of a Beethoven symphony (perhaps No. 4) cross-bred with Nielsen's First, Mendelssohn's Ruy Blas and Schumann's Rhenish. The only comparison is not a direct one and that is with its own later version as rather beautifully recorded by Ilya Stupel for Danacord (DACOCD 407) in Lodz in 1991. The brass of the Artur Rubinstein Philharmonic sound rather hesitant by comparison with the Dausgaard. Stupel takes the score at a dancing lick. The Symphony is only 16.25 (18.19 in the 1932 Stupel version) and is far less controversial and 'modern' than its predecessor from 1920 - at least until we get to the macabre play of the Scherzoso.

Symphony No. 8 (Memories at Amalienborg) is another compact piece - playing for 18.48 under Dausggaard and 16.42 under Stupel (DACOCD 409). The piano plays a prominent concertante part in the first movement but this is no piano concerto. Beethoven and Schumann had clearly imprinted themselves on Langgaard's creative 'forge' by the time he came to write and revise this symphony. As the Danacord notes comment, the symphony is problematic and fewer eyebrows would have been raised if he had hedged his bets and termed it a 'suite' as he did with the Fourteenth Symphony Morning. Call it what you will, this is pleasant stuff. Symphonic fibre? Not really .. and that Finale is quite repetitive.

Nazi-occupied Denmark saw the writing of symphonies 9-11. The Ninth is an example of Langgaard’s high-tilt romanticism tapping directly into the style of Schumann's Spring and Rhenish. The only jolt comes with the Ribe Cathedral movement where bells follow the melodic line established by the slow wash and surge of the strings. A similar shock attends the piano role among doom and storm-clouds towards the end of number 10. Did Langgaard recall Schumann's Cathedral movement from the Rhenish symphony? The movements are: Queen Dagmar sails to Ribe; The Dance at Riberhus; Ribe Cathedral; The turbulent life of the past.

The Tenth Symphony was my second experience of Langgaard which I recall playing back on an old Philips reel-to-reel tape recorder. This is a single movement work full of pugnacious and unbridled fantasy. This is much closer to the zest and rush of Elgar's In the South and Second Symphony. There are even insurgent elements from Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Liszt and even Miaskovsky.

The Eleventh is a symphony of a similar brevity to Havergal Brian's Twenty-Second Sinfonia Brevis. Whereas the Brian is full of variety and 'travel', Langgaard's is iterative. The volcanic-romantic, gestural, cycling, raucous minimalism of the piece expresses itself in the language of Bruckner and Wagner. Four tubas placed at the front of the orchestra enter towards the end of the piece. This is the same Langgaard who wrote a piece in which Carl Nielsen's name is called out repeatedly. There is something Satie-esque about this.

By the way Ixion is the hapless mortal who, having offending the Gods, found himself bound to a flaming wheel rotating for eternity. Yon Hall of Thunder is the name given to a rocky peninsula at Kullen in Denmark where Langgaard spent twenty-six happy summers.

The Twelfth Symphony is in a continuous span of only seven minutes with episodes marked in the score as follows: Furiously! - Distinguished! - Increasingly agitated - Wildly - Like trivial last trumps! - Hectically nervous! - Andante lento - Lento misterioso - Poco allegro marcato - Allegro - Furiously! - Amok! A composer explodes. This symphony is a reinterpretation of the epic First Symphony premiered in Berlin in 1909. The music has its roots resolutely struck into the nineteenth century mulch with exuberant infusions from Richard Strauss.

The opening and closing figure of the seven movement Thirteenth Symphony is shared with Langgaard’s Seventh. The language is much as its predecessor but I also detect some Brahms in the mix as well as some Beethovenian bluster. The music shivers with vitality. The finale sports a Nielsen-like skirl, lighter inspirations, brass ‘over-emphasis’, a Schumann scherzo and with the concert piano used to the point of vulgarity to adumbrate rhythm.

The Fourteenth Symphony opens with a massively exultant Introductory fanfare for chorus and full orchestra. Its tone is part Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and part Verdi Requiem. It’s a glorious din invocatory of the Second Coming. The other movements of Morgenen are: II Unnoticed morning stars (serene and gleaming strings); III The Marble Church rings (rapturous and glowing writing with a decidedly Schumann-like character; rather like the later movements); IV The tired get up for life; V Radio-Caruso and forced energy; VI ‘Dads’ rush to the office (nothing pell-mell – more a leisurely Mendelssohnian procession made original by the repeated spinning ostinato on the violins at 1:12); VII Sun and beech forest. That finale sees the return of the chorus but the music is now more leisurely. The exaltation and exultation of the first movement has faded into a soothing sunset bathed in sentimental light.

The Drapa (on the death of Grieg) dates from 1907 although there were various revisions before the final edition was made in 1913. This is a monothematic grand funeral cortege. It is a fervently sturdy march which in its five or so minutes gives a satisfying epitome of the Langgaard credo - its confident tread and romantic accent.

Sphinx is another mystical piece in which music is the Sphinx - a great tower reaching below the surface of the earth and ascending out into space. It was performed in Berlin 1913 at the famous Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra concert where Max Fiedler also conducted the Langgaard First Symphony. It is an intense little piece built from a single cell which has some similarities with the winding and unwinding melodic cell that makes up the mysterious start of Nielsen's Helios overture but here used to quite different effect and over a shorter time-span. It is an impressive and very memorable piece which rises from silence to exultant climax and sinks back into silence.

Half as long as the first two pieces yet immediately wild-eyed and stormy is the Hvidbjerg-Drapa. This is a crashing Tchaikovskian tempest with organ and bells and a blazingly magnificent choral part. It just ends and the listener is left stunned.

Danmarks Radio is another wild romp. It has bells, the Dies Irae and unstoppable energy - even a touch of dissonance. That propulsion and some of the accents recall Nielsen at his most choleric. The effect across its very short time-span is like an episode from Grainger's The Warriors.

Res Absurda is lit from the same gunpowder but with a whooping Straussian accelerant to add to the flames. In its brief exuberant repetitive span we might think of Verdi's Requiem and Delius's A Mass of Life. The choir throw themselves into this piece as they do with the abandoned eagerness of Hvidbjerg Drapa.

Langgaard's last two symphonies are quite compact and are in four and five movements respectively.

No.15 has its last movement a piece for baritone, chorus and orchestra which set Thoger Larsen's poem Sostormen in 1937. In 1949 after a night-time walk in Ribe he was gripped to write the first three movements between 4 and 7 am that night and to apply the 1937 setting as a natural conclusion to the piece. The first movement is full of what I can only describe as energetic foreboding fashioned around fugal treatment. This is more mordant than usual. The second movement is strong on restfully sweet charm, and a swaying beguiling innocence that you might relate to the Tchaikovsky ballets. The adagio funebre returns to the brooding and threatening eerily hesitant style of the first movement. The orchestration has a more airily transparent style than the shorter works here. The finale introduces us to the voices. The setting crashes with that seething fervent energy that is a Langgaard hallmark. It also reminded me of Bruckner’s Heligoland and Grieg's Landkjenning.

Langgaard's last symphony stands as the composer's testament to the lofty commitment to romanticism of which he saw himself as an isolated trustee of the apostolic mission. This symphony is warmly Straussian – golden-tinged by the horns, confidently expressed and warmly enwrapped by the strings. In the second movement Langgaard writes a Schumann-inflected Scherzo. It had originally been written in 1950 as a freestanding prelude to Strindberg's play Storm. It stands out in the company of the other movements as being more hesitant; less of a wild-eyed plunge into romance. It enjoys a more stripped down athletic style - yet pensive and brooding. The penultimate movement, Elegy, has a smilingly placid Grieg-like air and proves an oddball ‘centre of gravity’ for the piece. The finale returns to the euphoria of the first movement with what seems to be a heaviness of heart. Overall it has a more stolid tread. Is there now doubt in the composer's mind?

A criticism is that the gaps between tracks are too short. Dacapo should in this sense take Lyrita's practice to heart where the end of one piece is allowed to subside and impressions to clear from the mind before the next work begins.

The first three CDs in the series have been re-mastered as SACDs (playable on normal CD players). I reviewed this set using a standard CD player.

The box is custom-built. When it is opened the floor of the box rises carrying eight sleeves which form an integral part of the box frame. Each can be fanned forward and the individual disc extracted. The final sleeve carries the booklet. It’s a thoughtful design.

The booklet is in English, French, German and Danish. Given Dacapo’s usual punctilious approach I was surprised to find that the lavishly detailed notes of the original single discs had disappeared. In their place we have a fairly brief essay by Bendt Viinholt Nielsen. Even so, this approach does pay respect to those who bought each of these discs as issued at full price. The words, as sung in symphonies 2, 8, 14 and 15, are reproduced in Danish and with translations into the other three languages. Disappointingly the translations are not side-by-side with the original. This is a design flaw in an otherwise wonderful product.

What do we take from this set? Langgaard often wrote in an idiom completely incongruous with the range of contemporary expression. The evidence is everywhere in this set. That hardly matters and will matter even less as the decades pass. What does matter is that he writes fascinating and vulnerable music that still has the capacity to surprise and enchant. Let’s also not forget that in the 1910s and 1920s in particular he wrote works of a stimulating contemporary strangeness that would have startled his then contemporaries. It is then a matter of thanks to everyone involved in the making of this disc that this epic-heroic eccentric can still speak affectingly and sometimes grippingly to today’s audiences.

Rob Barnett

Rued Langgaard website

Index of MWI Langgaard reviews

Reviews of separate issues:

CD 1 6.220525 by Jens F Laurson
CD 2 not yet reviewed here
CD 3 8.224215 by RB
CD 4 8.224180 by Terry Barfoot and RB
CD 5 8.224182 by RB
CD 6 6.220517 by RB
CD 7 not yet reviewed here

Detailed track-listing for Dacapo set


CD 1 [60:30]
Symphony no. 1 “Klippepastoraler” (“Mountain Pastorals”) BVN 32 (1908-11) [60:30]
CD 2 [65:43]
Symphony no. 2 “Vårbrud” (Awakening of Spring) for soprano solo and orchestra BVN 53 Original Version (1912-14) [37:36]
Symphony no. 3 “Ungdomsbrus – La melodia” (The Flush of Youth – La melodia) for piano solo, orchestra and choir BVN 96 (1915-16, rev. 1925-33) [28:07]
CD 3 [57:31]
Symphony no. 4 “Løvfald” (Fall) BVN 124 (1916, rev. 1920) [23:38]
Symphony no. 5 (Version I) BVN 191 (1917-18/1926) [14:22]
Symphony no. 5 (Version II) “Steppenatur” (“Sommersagnsdrama”) (Steppe Landscape) (Summer Legend Drama) BVN 216 (1917-18/1920/1931) [19:31]
CD 4 [56:54]
Symphony no. 6 “Det himmelrivende” (The Heaven-Rending) BVN 165 (1919-20, rev. 1928-30) [21:41]
Symphony no. 7 (Version 1926) BVN 188 (1925-26) [16:25]
Symphony no. 8 “Minder ved Amalienborg” (Memories at Amalienborg) for chorus with tenor solo and orchestra BVN 193 (1926-28, rev. 1929-34) [18:48]
CD 5 [53:35]
Symphony no. 9 “Fra Dronning Dagmars by” (From Queen Dagmar’s City) BVN 282 (1942) [21:22]
Symphony no. 10 “Hin Torden-bolig” (Yon Hall of Thunder) BVN 298 (1944-45) [25:53]
Symphony no. 11 “Ixion” BVN 303 (1944-45) [6:20]
CD 6 [63:41]
Symphony no. 12 “Hélsingeborg” BVN 318 (1946) [7:06]
Symphony no. 13 “Undertro” (Belief in Wonders) BVN 319 (1946-47) [27:40]
Symphony no. 14 “Morgenen” (The Morning) - suite for choir and orchestra BVN 336 (1947-48/1951) [28:55]
CD 7 [61:43]
Drapa (On the Death of Edvard Grieg) BVN 20 (1907, rev. 1909-13) [5:27]
Sphinx - tone painting for orchestra BVN 37 (1909-10, rev. 1913) [6:46]
Hvidbjerg-Drapa for choir, organ and orchestra BVN 343 (1948) [3:06]
Danmarks Radio (Radio Denmark) fanfares for orchestra BVN 351 (1948) [1:18]
Res absùrda!? for choir and orchestra BVN 354 (1948) [5:35]
Symphony no. 15 “Søstormen” (“The Sea Storm”) for bass baritone solo, male chorus and orchestra BVN 375 (1937/1949) [17:40]
Symphony no. 16 “Syndflod af Sol” (“Sun Deluge”) BVN 417 (1950-51) [21:52]




 


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