2020 marks the 60th anniversary of the death of composer and conductor Launy Grøndahl and to note this occasion Danacord is bringing out a series of releases. The first is devoted to his established prowess as a composer – Nielsen, of course, but also rare examples of his Haydn and Beethoven – and the twofers thus far released are priced as for one disc.
Grøndahl was a busy working instrumentalist for the first part of his career and played the violin in a variety of ensembles, notably the Casino Orchestra in Copenhagen, though he went freelance in 1919. He also managed to pursue composition lessons with Ludolf Nielsen. His earliest music dates from 1908 but it’s really from the time of the First World War that composition became more frequent and impressive, as Pan and Syrinx and the Violin Concerto handsomely show. These recordings date from the years 1954-56 with Grøndahl directing his Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
The Trombone Concerto is his best-known and most-recorded concerto. Sometimes it has been transposed and as Martin Granau makes clear in his notes, subjected to faster tempi than those envisaged by the composer. There can be no doubt here that this is the composer’s own tempo – though in point of fact most of the currently available recordings, such as those by Christian Lindberg and Akia Kuwata, follow Grøndahl to the letter in this respect. You’ll notice the strikingly good mono Danish Radio sound and the excellence of Thorkild Graae Jørgensen’s playing. This vibrant and communicative work, with its luxuriously legato warmth in the slow movement, its unexpected piano part and the alpine effects, is evocatively projected by all concerned. Only a few chair scrapes reveal that this was a live broadcast.
In his 1967 live performance of the Violin Concerto the indefatigable Kai Laursen, in Danacord’s voluminous 10 CD set of ’26 Danish Violin Concertos’, proves a faster flyer than Milton Seibæk. But Seibæk, a member of the Royal Danish Orchestra, is a nimble and pliant soloist and one who draws out the elfin romance at the work’s heart with plausible warmth and proves a crisp customer in the freewheeling finale. In 1942 Grøndahl wrote a Bassoon Concerto for Carl Bloch who performs it in this 1956 taping of the work. The opening movement is charming enough with the soloist burbling away happily but the central movement opens with a refulgent orchestral introduction, filmic and strong, the bassoon soliloquizing rhapsodically, the music permeated with a real sense of space. Giocoso fun is reestablished in the finale. The dedicatee plays with tremendous esprit and technical aplomb.
The Horn Concerto was written in 1954 for the soloist in this broadcast performance, the excellent Ingbert Michelsen. This was, in fact, the work’s world première. It’s a confident work with a fine March theme in the finale, allied to a rich B section, and a mountain-vista element to the central movement. Back in 1915 he’d written the symphonic poem Pan and Syrinx composed some time before Nielsen’s work of the same name. The première had been conducted by Louis Glass and this opulent and passionate work with expansive wind textures and glowing strings is directed with matchless authority by the composer-conductor in a concert which also featured Bloch’s performance of the Bassoon Concerto and the final work in this twofer, the Symphony Op.9, written in 1919. This is a strongly argued work with urgency and eruptive power in the outer movements which enclose a jaunty Intermezzo, a three-movement-in-one schema but very obviously sub-divided. Late-Romantic with a melancholy-funereal element toward the end, triumphantly swept aside, it evokes a compelling symphonic narrative and sounds, to me at least, to have the force of a folkloric tale at its heart.
Danish Radio’s standards were high – orchestrally and in terms of recording quality – and the tapes seem to have survived in top class condition. Certainly, the restorations by Claus Byrith sound terrific. If you’re keen to hear the compositions of one of Denmark’s leading conductor-composers, you could hardly ask for more authentic historic documents.
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