Thomas Jensen (conductor)
Legacy - Volume 4
Boris Linderud (piano)
Kirsten Schultz (soprano)
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Orchestra of Det Kongelige Kapel, Copenhagen (Nielsen: Little Suite)
No texts or translations (Schierbeck Häxa)
DANACORD DACOCD914 [79:23 + 71:03]
In Danacord’s Jensen Legacy series the conductor’s commercial and broadcast performances have been entwined. This can cut both ways. His famous recordings of Nielsen’s First and Second symphonies are in this twofer and few Nielsen adherents of the old school would willingly be without them. They have, however, been reissued several times now, on different labels, and this leaves the prospective purchaser with decision-making complications.
Rob Barnett, for example, has considered the First Symphony in Dutton’s transfer (review) whilst Gerald Fenech wrote about the same label’s coupling of the Second with Launy Grøndahl’s recording of the Fourth (review). These are very well-known recordings, not least in Danacord’s own transfers. For serious historically minded collectors the best way to deal with this is to cut the Gordian knot and buy the 30-CD Danacord set called ‘Carl Nielsen on Record’ on DACOCD 801-830. For others, selectivity, such as for example, the disc under review, may be the answer. That’s only reinforced by the third piece in the first CD, Nielsen’s Little Suite for Strings, a recording from 1941 made not with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra but with the Orchestra of Det Kongelige Kapel, Copenhagen. It’s a beautifully phrased reading but it too is very well-known and in that big box.
Perhaps the second disc might tip the scales. This contains the real kernel of this volume, a sequence of never-before released archive broadcasts dating from 1950 to 1962. Herman D Koppel was for many decades a leading figure in post-Nielsen Danish music making and Danacord has rightly devoted time and money in attending to his own important legacy. Here they release his Fest-Overture of 1939, a giocoso work of purposeful vibrancy occasionally stamped by folkloric influence. As always with Koppel, it’s excellently orchestrated and full of life. Jensen played Holmboe’s music quite often but he wasn’t the one to premiere Epitaph, which was written for Britain’s new BBC Third Programme in 1956. It was in fact first performed by Stanford (the notes call him ‘Stamford’) Robinson who directs the BBC Symphony. Subtitled a ‘Symphonic Metamorphose’ it comes from a cycle of such titled pieces that include Monolith, Epilogue and Tempo variabile and this Jensen broadcast comes from 1959. A near twenty-minute single-movement piece that employs a process of transformation, it provides Jensen with an excellent vehicle to trace its changeable moods, from the initial trumpet figures through slow watchful paragraphs, brassy, celebratory power, driving dance motifs and a final subsiding to quietude.
Svend-Erik Tarp’s Second Symphony dates from 1948. He was eventually to write ten symphonies. I know there’s a late 1960s recording of the Second by the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Miltiades Caridis so maybe a large section of the same orchestra played it under Jensen in March 1962 in Helsinki. It’s a three-movement work of compact form. Its opening movement has an ominous tread, brassy and unsettled, with melancholic paragraphs that give way to the opening figures, now lyrically lightened. The central section is an ebullient scherzo and has plenty of Nielsen-evoking incident; brilliantly approachable and catchy. The Sereno finale, suggest Martin Granau and Peter Quantrill in their fine joint notes, may reflect something of the influence of Honegger or Vaughan Williams. There is certainly a strong air of nobility and conclusive triumph here, an accumulation of feelings and states that lead to logical, inescapable end.
The final composer represented is the organist and composer (largely) for the voice, Poul Schierbeck. The selected works date from the period 1935-39 and were given during two separate broadcasts a year apart. The 1935 Largo has a melancholy beauty and was later used in the 1955 film Ordet (The Word) which was directed by that pioneering figure in Scandinavian and indeed world cinema, Carl Dreyer. I Danmark er jeg født (In Denmark I am born) would have interested Stokowski, I think. It’s a paraphrase of a hymn Schierbeck had written back in 1926 and is suitably stirring and suffused with nobility. Rather different is Natten, a symphonic scene for orchestra with piano, played here by Boris Linderud. The composer extracted it from a ballet score to give it independent life. Finally, there’s Häxa, a scene for soprano (here Kirsten Schultz, 1929-1998), orchestra and organ, which takes us to a Witches’ Sabbath and the hallucinations of a young woman. Percussion, organ and brass are very present in the good recording, and the orchestra’s pizzicati dig deep. No text, though, is provided so you’ll have to make do with the fire and brimstone of the orchestra.
I referred to decision-making complications earlier. In a sense Danacord make this easier because this twofer is priced ‘as for one’ and that’s the case with all these Jensen Legacy releases. If that does indeed tip the scales, you should know that the previously unreleased section provides a valuable insight into Danish musical life of the time and includes some excellent performances of fine music. You should certainly hear the Tarp and Holmboe and I think Schierbeck will round out an appreciation of the ecclesiastical element in Danish music of the time.
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphony No 1 in G minor, Op 7 (1891-1892) [32:52]
Little Suite for Strings, Op 1 (1888) [15:02]
Symphony No 2 The Four Temperaments, Op 16 (1901-1902) [31:05]
Herman D KOPPEL (1908-1998)
Fest-Overture, Op 33 (1939) [6:58]
Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-1996)
Epitaph: Symphonic Metamorphose, Op 68 (1956) [19:28]
Svend Erik TARP (1908-1994)
Symphony No 2, Op 50 (1948) [19:19]
Poul SCHIERBECK (1888-1949)
Largo, Op 33 (1935) [3:52]
Paraphrase on I Danmark er jeg fødr, Op 43 (1938) [6:16]
Natten, symphonic scene for orchestra with piano, Op 41 (1938) [8:25]
Häxa, scene for soprano, orchestra and organ, Op 48 (1939) [5:51]
June 1952, Danish Radio Concert Hall (Nielsen Symphony 1); January-February 1941, Odd Fellow Palace, Copenhagen (Little Suite); October 1947, Danish Radio Concert Hall (Nielsen Symphony 2); June 1958, Danish Radio Concert Hall (Koppel); 1959, Danish Radio Concert Hall (Holmboe; Schierbeck Largo), June 1958, Danish Radio Concert Hall (Schierbeck Natten and Häxa); March 1962, Helsinki (Tarp)