Knudåge RIISAGER (1897-1974)
The Symphonic Edition - Vol. 1
Overture for Erasmus Montanus (Danish Pictures no. 1) op. 1 (c. 1918-1920) [10:21]
Klods Hans (Jack the Dullard), (Danish Pictures no. 2) op. 18 (1929) [9:45]
Symphony no. 1, op. 8 (1925) [25:37]
Comoedie, (Danish Pictures no. 4), op. 21 (1930) [9:46]
Fastelavn (Carnival), op. 20 (Danish Pictures no. 3) (1930) [9:21]
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Bo Holten
rec. Symphonic Hall, Musikhuset Aarhus, 14-18 September 2010 [1] - [5] & [7] and 21 February 2011 [6]
DACAPO 8.226146 [64:52]

Riisager’s first training in theory and composition came from from Otto Malling and then from 1915 from Peder Gram. In Paris he became a pupil of Roussel and Le Flem. His predominant musical form was the ballet – 13 of them between 1930 and 1968 – as well as an opera Susanne (1948). We should not forget the Trumpet Concerto which was recorded in a Philadelphia principals in the days of CBS LPs. There is also an excellent Violin Concerto written for Wandy Tworek who recorded his sonatas for string instruments for Decca in the 1950s. This Concerto was also championed by Kai Laursen and included in his treasured violin concerto collection on Danacord. Beyond this there are some remarkable works including some five symphonies, a 1937 Sinfonia Concertante and the orchestral fantasy Archaeopteryx. The note-writer for this disc also singles out from Riisager's last ten years: Sangen om det uendelige (The Song of the Infinite) from 1964 to a text by the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi and the orchestral works Trittico (1971) and To Apollo (1972). As a composer Riisager had no pupils or successors. Of the ballets Benzin has been recorded by Dacapo as has Qartsiluni (review review). The Chandos disc of the same ballet music and of Etudes with the Montanus overture should not be overlooked (CHAN9432). His piano music can be heard on a Dacapo CD.

This disc launches with Erasmus Montanus whose initial calming Gallic lyricism gives way to a classically lively manner caught somewhere between Schumann and Nielsen at his most light feathered. In the final section he is unable to escape the Nielsen manner but ends in the best German-romantic style. Jack the Dullard – no mischievous Eulenspiegel this - is another eager concert-opener with some fluffy and frilly episodes. It’s more poetic than the start of Montanus. Here is an innocent good-hearted and apple-cheeked fellow. Comoedie and Carneval are brothers with gestural berlioz-like rushing writing and wild brilliantly-stuttered fragmentations. This is perhaps the sort of work Nielsen intended to lampoon five years earlier in his last Symphony. Carnaval Romain and Le Corsair are clear influences – if only occasionally. Carneval speaks brilliantly of simple peasant folk in town with Prokofiev style eruptive sarcasm and the sort rude uproarious humour we hear in Nielsen’s Flute Concerto. The three movement Symphony does not struggle with the grand eternal verities. Its mien is more Sinfonietta: playful, chivalrous, impulsive and ending in a grand symphonic glow. There is a touch of Moeran’s Sinfonietta here. The central movement is very beautiful - a most impressive and sensitive portrayal of pastoral beauties.

This is a pleasing collection and bodes well for the later volumes. That said there is nothing here that is as unnervingly striking as Archaeopteryx or Qartssiluni.

Rob Barnett

This is a pleasing collection and bodes well for the later volumes.