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King Frederik IX Conducts
Royal Danish Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra
rec. 1942-69 DACAPO8.204001 [4 CDs: 270 minutes]
Here, in a blue-liveried box, is a sequence of recordings, studio and live, of King Frederik IX. The Danish monarch (1899-1972) was musically self-taught but came from a typically musically literate family. It was his mother, in particular, who shaped his interest in music-making; she was apparently a fine pianist. He studied the piano and by his teens was conducting small ensembles. Though he did conduct the Band of the Danish navy and the Royal Lifeguards band it wasn’t until many years later that he directed a symphony orchestra. An invitation to conduct the Royal Danish Orchestra in 1938 at a fundraising concert led to his conducting the Danish Symphony Orchestra in 1941 where he led one of his favourite works, the Pathétique symphony. In all he conducted 51 different works by 18 composers. Beethoven and Wagner enjoyed the lion’s share, with his beloved Tchaikovsky next. Conventional symphonic preferences, of course, but hardly easy meat for one who had, effectively, no real tuition in the art of conducting.
These well-packed discs reflect the private concerts he gave as well as the commercial recordings he made. The majority of recordings are with the Danish National Symphony from 1949-69 but there is a CD’s worth with the Royal Danish Orchestra in December 1948. Clearly one isn’t ranking these recordings against contemporary 78s or LPs but reflecting on the strong musical qualities evinced by Frederik. Of especial interest is that part of his repertoire that reflects his own native music. He had conducted Friedrich Kuhlau’s overture to Elves’ Hill and HC Lumbye’s fantasy Dream Pictures in 1945 and three years later set them down on disc. They’re heard in excellent sound, taken from pressings made for the King himself and to my ears superior to many commercial 78s of the time. The King handles the operatic panache of the Kuhlau finely and the Lumbye is wittily done. The same composer’s Salut for August Bournonville is a charmer of a galop. The following year he recorded Gade’s Echoes of Ossian, a thoroughly serious-minded 14-minute piece composed in 1840 and which enshrines a good amount of colour. Contrast Hakon Borresen’s prelude to The Royal Guest, a festive and vibrant piece and one of the very few twentieth century works in the King’s repertoire. Grieg’s The Last Spring is warmly done, though there are some crackles on the 78 disc.
Symphonically he tackled three Beethoven Symphonies (Nos. 1, 3 and 7) as well as Schubert’s Unfinished symphony. You wouldn’t confuse the King’s direction of the Schubert with, let’s say, Jochum’s in Boston but like the Beethoven recordings it reflects Frederik IX’s honesty and directness. There’s nothing at all indicative of a non-professional musician and the orchestra was clearly keen to uphold sectional discipline throughout. Perhaps the tempo and articulation for the third movement of the Seventh are alike a little slack but the formidable repertoire reflects well on all concerned, though the wind tuning in the 1969 concert performance of No.1 takes some time to find itself.
There is some Wagner to enjoy – the King had previously visited Bayreuth – as well as the very earliest recordings, of Weber. The two standard overtures date from 1942 and 1946. Boxily recorded it sounds as if some of the top has been taken off in the restorations.
Talking of which, a significant amount of this material has been previously issued. The first CD (Kuhlau, Lumbye, Schubert) is ex-Dacapo 8.224100 but in a new transfer direct from the metal masters (and it sounds excellent). CDs 2 and 3 are remastered versions of the Dacapo twofer 8.224158-59. I’m not aware that the last of the four CDs - Beethoven’s First Symphony, Siegfried’s Funeral March and overture to the Flying Dutchman, all from 1969, and the two early Weber overtures - have been released by Dacapo before.
The attractive box houses fine booklet notes with ancillary black and white photographs that show the King conducting and in the control booth. This is very much a release that treads off the beaten path, but it does so with purpose, discrimination and expertise.
Contents Friedrich KUHLAU (1786-1832)
Everhoj (Elves' Hill) Suite: Overture, Op.100 (1828) [12:05] H.C. LUMBYE (1810-1874)
Drømmebilleder (1846) [9:27]
Salut for August Bournonville (1869) [3:17] Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 'Unfinished' (1822) [24:00] Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tannhäuser: Overture (1845) [15:35]
Rienzi Overture (1840) [12:57]
Götterdämmerung: Siegfried's Death & Funeral March (1874) [8:29]
Der fliegende Holländer: Overture (1841) [10:52] Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Two Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34 No. 2, Våren (1880) [6:06] Niels GADE (1817-1890)
Efterklange af Ossian, Op.1 (1840) [14:21] Hakon BØRRESEN (1876-1954)
Den kongelige gæst (1919) [8:30] Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op.92 (1812) [39:46]
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 'Eroica' (1804) [49:05]
Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21 [23:29] Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Euryanthe Overture, Op.81 (1823) [9:11]
Der Freischütz Overture, Op.77 (1821) [10:05]