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Romantic Danish Overtures
Edouard DU PUY (1770-1822)
Overture to the comic opera Youth and Folly (1806) [7:43]
Christoph Ernst Friedrich WEYSE (1774-1842)
Overture to the comic opera The Sleeping-draught (1809) [4:43]
Friedrich KUHLAU (1786-1832)
Overture to the play William Shakespeare (1826) [9:57]
Johan Peter Emilius HARTMANN (1805-1900)
Overture to the opera Little Kirsten (1846) [8:35]
Peter HEISE (1830-1879)
Overture to the tragic opera King and Marshal (1878) [9:49]
Christian Frederik Emil HORNEMAN (1840-1906)
Fairy-tale overture Aladdin (1866) [10:16]
Royal Danish Orchestra/Johan Hye-Knudsen
rec. 1968(?), location not supplied
STERLING CDS1018-2 [51:30]

With a title and track-list like this, you know before a note rings out through the speakers that you aren’t expecting deep, brooding and complex music. Only the Heise work comes from an opera described as tragic, and while it is certainly more serious than the rest, Tristan und Isolde it isn’t. However, that isn’t to say the other works are light and fluffy.

Edouard Du Puy was born in Switzerland, but his professional career as composer and performer was in Denmark and Sweden. Apparently he was banished from the former after an affair with a princess who was married to the heir to the Danish throne. His comic opera Youth and Folly has, according to the notes, “belonged to the evergreens of the Danish lyrical stage”. The composer himself sang one of the leading roles in its premiere, which I’m sure isn’t unique, but I hadn’t heard of such an instance before. It is very well crafted, with plenty of good melodies.

German by birth, Christoph Weyse became one of the first significant Danish composers through his songs. His comic opera, perhaps more accurately a singspiel, The Sleeping-draught became very popular in Copenhagen and has been recorded by Dacapo. This, and the Du Puy, owe more to the previous century and Haydn than the new era and Beethoven. In making these comparisons here and below, I am only trying to provide a sense of the style of music, rather than implying specific influences.

With Friedrich Kuhlau we have definitely moved into the Romantic era. This overture was written for a “romantic” play, unnamed by the notes. It is not clear, but the implication is that it was not one of Shakespeare’s, but rather one about him. It displays a range of moods, from the brooding opening to high spirits and grand drama, much like the bard’s works, of course. The notes mention the influence of Weber: I heard traces of Schubert and Rossini.

Johan Hartmann is the first Danish-born composer on the disc. Niels Gade, a surprising absentee from this disc, was his son-in-law. This overture, for an opera based on a Hans Christian Andersen novel, is the star piece for the disc. Apparently, the opera, again recorded in full by Dacapo, has been performed more than 300 times at the Royal Danish Theatre. Given the quality of music in the overture, I can understand why. Style-wise, Hartmann seems to have his own voice more so than the others here, but Mendelssohn would be the closest.

Peter Heise is only known to me through a piano trio, discovered in the process of carrying out of my survey. This is probably the least of the six works presented here. At times, you can hear Heise attempting to sound, unsuccessfully, like Wagner, and at other times, Mendelssohn is at hand. Given that Heise consulted Niels Gade, the latter is not surprising.

Christian Horneman spent more than two decades writing his opera on the Aladdin story, but this overture was a free-standing composition that later became incorporated in the opera. Surprisingly, given its date, it has a definite Beethovenian feel to it, especially the Seventh symphony, though in the quieter moments, one gets a glimpse of Mendelssohn, appropriately as Horneman spent some time in Leipzig.

I was surprised to find that this was quite an old recording; while the details are not provided, the booklet notes are dated 1968, and the conductor died in 1975. The sound is anything but dated; I have heard worse orchestral recordings made in the last decade or so. The notes are not compendious, but do supply more than the basics.

I expected to this to be merely pleasant and undemanding, and was delighted to find it much more.

David Barker

Previous review: Rob Barnett



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