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Georg GERSON (1790-1825)
Overture in D Major [8.28]
Symphony in E flat major [35.52]
Friedrich Ludwig Aemilius KUNZEN (1761-1817)
Symphony in g minor [21.02]
Concerto Copenhagen / Lars Ulrik Mortensen
rec. Garnisons Kirke, Copenhagen, 2004
CPO 777 085-2 [62.24]

This recording has more than documentary interest, for three reasons. Firstly, the symphonies are among the first Danish symphonies, though influenced by the German roots of the two composers represented. Secondly, it is always useful to explore symphonies roughly contemporary with those of Beethoven. Finally, these are splendid performances, clean, rhythmically alert, committed, in a transparent acoustic.

Though his G minor symphony ends the disc, Kunzen’s symphony is the earliest of the works here, dating from around 1795. Though born in Lübeck, he spent much of his life in Denmark. An important inspiration for his work was Mozart – much of the idiom is Mozartian, and the work is charming without pushing the boundaries of the symphony. Kunzen was limited by the instruments available to him – there are no flutes or clarinets. I confess I found the work charming, but not one that lingered long in the memory.

Georg Gerson, on the other hand, had the benefits of clarinets for his only symphony, written between 1813 and 1817. His orchestra is roughly that of late Mozart, plus an additional flute, and the inspiration is largely Mozartian. He was born in Copenhagen and showed exceptional promise as a violinist. His education – as financier and composer – was completed in Hamburg from the age of fifteen. On his return to Copenhagen he worked as a banker, but continued for the remainder of his brief life to be a significant figure on the Danish musical scene. His output includes very many songs, a violin concerto from 1821, five string quartets, two concert overtures, a string quintet, two Italian scenes for orchestra, and a Pater noster for male choir. On the evidence of the music here, there is much to explore. The symphony has an exciting range of expression, fluent and original in its orchestral timbres, for instance in the minuet, and has real depth within a conventional framework. This is music of substance, with a distinctive voice, an interesting use of fugal technique, especially in the final movement, and well worth knowing.

Nor is the overture a simple makeweight. It follows a conventional pattern with a slow but sturdy introduction and some powerful writing – it demands attention from the first bars.

The performances from Concerto Copenhagen under Lars Ulrik Mortensen are excellent, with some carefully graded dynamic contrasts yet a sense of enjoyment and spontaneity. Production standards, including the characteristically informative booklet, are up to CPO’s customary high standards, and it is good to see this CD, first released in 2005, back in the catalogue.

Michael Wilkinson

Previous review: Rob Barnett



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