Børresen, a Danish composer, sported a Norwegian name.
This was down to his Norwegian grandfather who moved to Denmark
in the early 1800s. Young Børresen was taught by Svendsen
and travelled in Europe during the early 1900s. His violin concerto
was given at one of Nikisch’s concerts. There are three
symphonies to his name and all are here. His most famous work
is probably the opera The Royal Guest
although its reputation
and Børresen's has been largely restricted to Denmark
and perhaps Germany.
These two Dacapo discs are very well filled - important with
rare repertoire. The sound quality is fine and natural with no
excesses. Notes for both by Nils Dittmer and are suitably encyclopaedic.
I was surprised that they were in English and German only. Where
is the Danish? I know German is the second language in Denmark
but still wondered why the first language was not here. As with
the now defunct Franco/Belgian Patrimoine series (from the Naxos
fold) these discs are issued in Danish only versions in Denmark
but at budget price: Violin Concerto and Symphony 1 8.554950
Symphonies 2 and 3 8.554951.
I knew the symphonies 2 and 3 originally from radio broadcast
tapes as well (in the case of the Second Symphony) the
old Danacord LPs since transferred to CD
. These last two
symphonies are, perhaps, in spirit, a Danish counterpart of Dvořák’s
earlier symphonies up to number six. His First Symphony is from
a different world altogether.
The Violin Concerto
(1904) dates from the same year as
the Second Symphony. The first of the three movements is nearly
a quarter of an hour long. In a striking theatrical gesture after
the opening serious flourishes the violin begins a capricious
theme out of a silence of several bars. At 9:27 a warm theme
emerges from the accompanying strings and resurfaces at 12:25.
The middle Adagio sings quietly without being wildly distinctive.
The last movement has its fireworks but this is no empty Paganinian
display. Shuddering strings and some drama mark out the movement.
Overall this is a work of delicacy, warmth and charm. The Dvořák
concerto is a counterpart. It radiates the same largely carefree
Make no mistake this work has some extremely attractive moments
and is well worth hearing. It has quite a strong profile though
written, I would imagine, under the thrall of the Tchaikovsky
concerto. The soloist is clearly prepared to try out-of-the-way
repertoire as she was also the soloist, a several decades ago,
in a BBC revival of the Rawsthorne Second Violin Concerto which
she has since recorded on Naxos
the First. The Børresen is the sort of work that belongs
in Hyperion’s Romantic Violin Concerto series alongside
the Schoeck, Ivanovs and Bortkiewicz concertos.
Børresen was only 24 when he wrote the Symphony No. 1
(1901). The first movement alternates darkness with a certain
bright intensity usually allocated to the strings. According
to the always excellent programme notes, Børresen had
heard Svendsen conduct the famous three Tchaikovsky symphonies
as well as the Sibelius First before he wrote this symphony.
This is gorgeous music - heavily derivative maybe but evidently
written with a driving young ambition and impulse which his two
later symphonies lack. Listen to the glowering sunrise effect
at 7:40 Track 4 - wonderfully sustained. Tchaikovsky’s
Fifth Symphony can be heard in the second movement - allegretto.
The third movement opens happily with chirping woodwind and a
relaxed urbane demeanour. The last movement, while not consistently
dramatic, has much drama about it and many stormy Tchaikovskian
moments. This is the one movement which Nikisch agreed to present
in Leipzig though Børresen refused wanting the whole symphony
In 1953, the year before his death, Børresen added a note
to the score saying that the second movement could still be played
but ‘but hardly the symphony as a whole’. I am glad
that we have heard this symphony and that we and future generations
can enjoy it easily again. The music is sincere and the fact
that it inhabits a sound-world borrowed very heavily from late
Tchaikovsky and very occasionally early Sibelius should not in
itself inhibit our enjoyment … and there is much to enjoy
here (try 9:50 to the end of Track 8).
The Symphony No. 2 The Sea
(1904) is written in a style
not far away from Mendelssohn, Brahms and Schumann but with Tchaikovskian
moments. Scandinavian marine symphonies are not uncommon. There
are oceanic essays by Nystroem, Atterburg (West Coast Pictures
and Alfvén amongst others. Børresen was fascinated
by the sea but vivid sea painting such as you find in Bax’s Tintagel
Nystroem’s Sinfonia del Mare
are outside his grasp.
This is more in the nature of Rubinstein’s Ocean Symphony
The first movement (Surf
) declares a work firmly rooted
in German romantics with occasional glimpses towards the Slavs.
The second (Summer
) begins in chirpy Mendelssohnian spirits
and has some fine romantic moments not least at Track 2 5:20.
There is a lively balletic spirit here. The third movement (Tragedy
has a strong atmosphere leaning into the territory of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred
I get the impression that this could benefit from a fleeter approach
to tempi; instead it leans towards steady intensity. The last
) has a gentle serenade nature to it
at times but there is some more ‘sturm und drang’ with
good work for both strings and horns. The onward coursing theme
at 7:30 on track 4 is a fine inspiration. There are at least
two other recordings including one on CPO and another on Danacord.
The latter is a historic performance of great intensity. Perhaps
a few more volts in the present recording would have helped.
The first of the four movements encompasses almost half the Symphony
No. 3 (1927). It opens darkly and soon (04.00) passes through
some Elgarian moments into a restful interlude. There is more
complexity here but the colours and sounds seem more Børresen’s
own. It is still perfectly tuneful with romantically aspiring
horns at 6:40. At 7:36 a great black chasm opens up - one of
the strongest moments in both discs. The movement ends with great
nobility for horns and strings. Brass and strings conspire in
a Schumann-like peroration. The two central movements are no
longer than 8 minutes in total. The adagio is very attractive
with a lovely fade by the violins to close. The third movement
has the air of a graceful dance or an open-air coach-ride with
Dvořákian woodland moments. The last movement has
more snap and crackle about it and more dramatic depth though
heaven-storming climaxes are not his style: colour, fine orchestral
touches and detailing aplenty. The symphony ends in an atmosphere
of joyously innocent celebration.
There is much to charm in the last two symphonies. After hearing
these discs you can be forgiven for assuming that Børresen
was more at home with songful serenading rather than high-tension
romantics - more Gade than Sibelius. Definitely worth hearing
- though not an edge-of-seat listening experience. Congratulations
to the Børresen Estate, Dacapo, Marco Polo, the orchestra
and Owain Arwel Hughes for making this available.
If you must go for one disc alone try the First Symphony and
the Concerto. Now we must hope for a complete recording of Børresen’s
Greenland opera Kaddara
(1921). If it is anything like
its most famous aria Ujarak’s Farewell
it will be
well worth hearing. If you are looking for an alternative recording
of the last two symphonies then go for the CPO
CD conducted by Ole Schmidt
. His opera, The Royal Guest
also on Dacapo
has been reviewed here.