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Knudåge RIISAGER (1897-1974)
The Symphonic Edition Vol. 1
Overture for Erasmus Montanus (Danish Pictures no.1), op.1 (c.1918-20) [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) (Danish Pictures no.3), op. 20 (1930) [9:21]
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Bo Holten
rec. Musikhuset, Aarhus, Denmark, 14-18 September 2010, 21 February 2011 (op.21).
DACAPO 8.226146 [65:00]

The Symphonic Edition Vol. 2
T-DOXC (Poème Mécanique), for orchestra, op.13 (1926) [8:19]
Symphony no.2, op.14 (1927) [14:57]
Concerto for Orchestra op.24 (1931) [16:58]
Primavera - Concert Overture, op.31 (1934) [5:43]
Sinfonia (Symphony no. 3), op.30 (1935) [21:07]
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Bo Holten
rec. Musikhuset, Aarhus, Denmark, 20-25 June 2011.
DACAPO 8.226147 [67:03] 

Orchestral Works
Slaraffenland (Fool's Paradise) - Suite I, op.33 (1936) [16:32]
Slaraffenland (Fool's Paradise) - Suite II, op. 33 (1940) [14:07]
Tolv med Posten (Twelve by the Post)- Six Dances from the Hans Christian Andersen Ballet, op. 37 (1939) [11:29]
Concertino for trumpet and string orchestra, op.29 (1933) [11:21]
*Darduse - Dances from the Fairytale Play by Johannes V Jensen, op. 32 (1935-36) [19:06]
Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet)
*Ars Nova
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
rec. Konserthuset, Helsingborg, Sweden, 2-6 June 1997.
DACAPO 6.220584 [65:00]   

Dacapo launched their 'Symphonic Edition' of Knudåge Riisager's works last year with Bo Holten conducting the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra. The same team have just released a second volume and as their recording includes the Concerto for Orchestra as well as further overtures, it is now clear that this is not simply a cycle of Riisager's five symphonies. That being the case, the 'Orchestral Works' disc released in 2010, featuring the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard and a brief but notable guest appearance by Håkan Hardenberger, constitutes at the very least a preface to the Edition. This disc in fact came out originally in 1997 as 8.224028, so Dacapo's decision to re-release it with cover art subsequently imitated by the two 'Symphonic Edition' discs must surely have some significance. 

In fact though, there are two further Dacapo discs, from 2005 and 2008, that certainly belong in an Orchestral Edition, if that is what this ultimately becomes, not least because the first - Riisager's 'Arctic' ballets Qarrtsiluni and Månerenen (8.226022) and his 'joke' ballet Benzin (6.220527) - was recorded by Holten and the Aarhus SO. It will be interesting to see if any of the works on either of these two albums are re-recorded for the current series. Either way, the listener can expect further persuasively idiomatic interpretations. 

Uncommonly, Knudåge Riisager (pronounced approximately as a Brit might say 'c'noothe-or-ga ree-say-awe') had a 'proper job' as a civil servant, and in that sense was only ever a part-time composer. On the other hand he was no amateur: his teachers included the likes of Albert Roussel and Paul Le Flem, he was chairman of the Danish Composers' Association for 25 years and later became Director of Copenhagen's Royal Academy of Music - an institution he had never attended as a student. 

Despite these trappings, Riisager was always something of a maverick in Danish music, showing no interest in following Nielsen, but his scores, melody-rich, harmonically consonant and lucidly structured, are by no means unconventional - except in the sense that he applied the label 'symphony' to non-sonata-form works that in some ways are little different to suites of concert overtures. In fact, as will quickly become apparent to anyone following this series, Riisager's music, though unfailingly colourful, almost always has the feel of an overture, short tone poem or ballet movement. Neo-Classical Stravinsky's Pulcinella and Petrushka on the one hand and Malcolm Arnold's comedy overtures and St Trinian's film scores on the other, give an idea of the flavour much of it exudes, at least those featured here. There are rarely any darker or serious episodes, and virtually no references to jazz or modernism, giving Riisager a very 19th-century 'sound' - 18th century, indeed. A certain counter-balance is, however, achieved by the extemporised character much of the music retains. 

The symphonies are, in a sense, sui generis, and will not necessarily appeal to audiences raised on Gade, Nielsen, Langgaard, Hamerik or Glass. Economisers wanting to hear Riisager at his best cannot go wrong with the Helsingborg/Dausgaard disc. The two Slaraffenland Suites, both designated op.33 incidentally, are marvellously effervescent and varied, whilst Håkan Hardenberger is typically suave in the short but genial neo-Baroque Trumpet Concertino. Darduse is especially good, with its tumultuous final dance, preceded by the third 'Dust Storm' movement in which for once Riisager's writing turns briefly ominous, as the choir is used to striking, quasi-instrumental effect. This CD also has the advantage of having been upgraded to 'Super Audio' - although the regular sound of the latter pair is also praiseworthy. Whatever the disc, most works are in premiere recordings. 

Though the accompanying notes are straight copies in part of the original Dausgaard disc, they are still Dacapo's usual detailed, informative, broadly well written efforts. It must be said, however, that annotator Claus Røllum-Larsen does make claims for Riisager's music that border at times on the fanciful. To describe, for example, T-DOXC - an atmospheric portrait of a new Japanese aeroplane - as "quite in the spirit of the 'machine music' of the period and as such a fine example of the young composer's international orientation and will to experiment" paints a misleading picture for anyone expecting a rival to Mossolov or Antheil.
 
Byzantion
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk

See also review of Volume 1 by Rob Barnett

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