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Emil REESEN (1887-1964)
The Art of Emil Reesen
Himmerland (Danish Rhapsody, 1926) [12:12]
Variations on a Theme of Schubert (1928) [15:10]
Grønlandsk Folketone (Greenlandic Folk Music, 1934) [6:46]
Intermezzo from "Historien om en moder" (The Story of a Mother, 1941) [5:54]
Arias from Farinelli (c.1941): Sangen har vinger (The song has wings) [2:48]: Den som har livets mildhed søgt (He who has pursued life's gentleness) [3:20]: Livets glæder (The pleasures of life) [3:25]: Der er en sang (There is a song) [3:08]
Fantasy on South Jutland Melodies (1930) [8:52]
Fantasy on Danish Christmas Melodies (1933) [6:19]
Radio Exhibition Fanfare (1950) [2:00]
Radiofonia (Rapsodia Burlesque, 1950) [5:38]
rec. studio and live concerts, 1941-1969
No texts

Emil Reesen trained as a pianist – his teacher was Liszt pupil Siegfried Langgaard, father of Rued – and followed an established path for aspiring Danish conductors of his generation by playing in theatre and restaurant bands. Arranging and composing as he progressed, he indulged a taste for musical slapstick before sharing conducting duties of the orchestra of Danish Radio with Launy Grøndahl. As composer and conductor he moved easily between the genres – orchestral, ballet, dance band, jazz, and revue being some of his best-known talents - all the time retaining a natural confidence, even ebullience.

In this single disc we encounter a number of these elements in both commercial and live performances made between 1941 and 1969. The studio recordings were made for Decca, HMV and Polyphon and the Decca (made in 1953) is a terrific performance of Himmerland, a Danish Rhapsody, which had been composed back in 1926, just before he had been taken up by Emil Holm of Danish Radio. After a vaguely Delian introduction, Reesen unleashes a torrent of folk fiddle tunes, genially yet expertly orchestrated. Only the constraint of the mono Decca limits the ripe flourish of the music, with the Danish Radio Symphony, conducted by Reesen, in prime form.

The centenary of Schubert’s death fell in 1928 and was marked by some fine symphonies such as Franz Schmidt’s Third and Kurt Atterberg’s Sixth, the latter subject to a famous recording or two. Reesen wrote Variations on a Theme of Schubert, a rather Brahmsian title for what is a pleasant but undemanding piece; one doesn’t feel Reesen’s musical heart was beating fast when he wrote it. When he mined folkloric elements however things are much different. Grønlandsk Folketone (Greenlandic Folk Music) is romanticism write large, its grave beauty predicated on folk tunes, and scored with rich skill, and conducted with rare understanding by Thomas Jensen in concert in 1959. There are politicised, anti-German elements in the Fantasy on South Jutland Melodies and it’s a vivid and stirring example of Reesen’s love of folk influence. The Intermezzo from his opera Historien om en moder (The Story of a Mother) offers a slice of melancholy. The work was written for soprano Tenna Kraft. The other side of Reesen’s penchant for vocal music can be heard in the snippets made for HMV in 1941 culled from Farinelli where the title role was taken by Askel Schiøtz. This is pure Viennese operetta and marvellously fluent and burnished of voice though the great tenor is, one can equally imagine Tauber in it. This is the only other time that Reesen conducts.

The final pieces show a more ‘site specific’ approach to Reesen’s work list. There’s a festive piece from 1933 called Fantasy on Danish Christmas Melodies which uses nineteenth century hymn tunes and a fine array of bells – a charming mélange. Radio Exhibition Fanfare is all over in two minutes, but Radiofonia is rather more extended and comes from the soundtrack of a TV production. Written in 1950 it sees Reesen exploring montage theory with vehicle noises, spoken texts, bells, comic operatic snippets and music from the Palm Court, from Chopin and Beethoven, the use of a chorus and organ, the Prince of Denmark’s March and l'alouette. Reesen doesn’t quite throw in the kitchen sink, but nearly. Hans Peder Aase directs the Danish Radio Concert Orchestra.

Reesen was a significant figure in Danish musical life – a thoughtful processor of colourful folk music, a purveyor of serio-comic works, as well as commemorative ones. He worked on larger-scaled pieces too which possess a warming sense of integrity. He has been finely served here by Danacord both in terms of the transfers and also the presentation with Martin Granau’s notes leading the way and Claus Byrith ensuring that the music is heard in the best light.

Jonathan Woolf

Performance details
Aksel Schiøtz (tenor)
Danish Radio Concert Orchestra/Hans Peder Aase (Radiofonia)
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by:
Emil Reesen (Himmerland, Farinelli arias, Fantasy on South Jutland Melodies),
Thomas Jensen (Grønlandsk Folketone, Intermezzo from "Historien om en moder", Fantasy on Danish Christmas Melodies), Arne Hammelboe (Variations on a Theme of Schubert), Erik Tuxen (Radio Exhibition Fanfare)

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