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Jensen Legacy DACOCD912
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Thomas Jensen Legacy - Volume 2
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No 5 in D minor, Op 47 (1937) [43:22]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Concerto for piano and wind instruments (1924) [18:13]
Knudĺge RIISAGER (1897-1974)
Little Overture for Strings (1934) [4:08]
Concertino for Trumpet and Strings (1933) [10:10]
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1934): The foal hurries to the filly [5:57]; There is a lake in the deepest part of the woods [4:47]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Symphony No 5 Di tre re (1948) [22:23]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Concerto No 2, Sz. 112 (1938) [37:31]
Herman D. Koppel (piano)
George Eskdale (trumpet)
Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano)
Henryk Szeryng (violin)
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Jensen
rec. 1949-1963
No texts
DANACORD DACOCD912 [76:23 + 61:08]

Danacord is releasing a series of recordings, off-air and studio, devoted to the conductor Thomas Jensen who died in 1963, so it’s not far short of a half-centenary celebration of his distinguished art. He’s often spoken of in relation to Nielsen and Sibelius but the presence of studio performances allows a wider vista to appear. This second volume in an unfolding series focuses on twentieth-century repertoire whereas the inaugural volume focused wholly on Sibelius (review). The sound quality is certainly reasonable for the time and circumstances.

Shostakovich’s Fifth symphony was part of a broadcast given in October 1963 at the Danish Radio Concert Hall, just a fortnight before Jensen’s unexpected death. He had for a long time been suffering the effects of encroaching deafness with all the attendant burdens posed and whether it’s this element, with the obvious problems of sectional balancing, or a lack of engagement with the music, the results are less than convincing. It’s doubtless unfair to measure him against Mravinsky and Kondrashin here but after their vitality and volatility and controlled intensity of expression, Jensen sounds tired. His tempi are fine but articulation and projection suffer and there’s a rhythmic flaccidity to some of the music-making. Though the recording catches much of the percussion writing in the finale, the music emerges as rather metrical.

He’s much better served by an earlier 1954 broadcast of Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments where he has the great advantage of pianist and composer Herman D Koppel, for whose music and recordings Danacord has also done much. This is the second recorded collaboration between conductor, pianist and orchestra in this work that I know of, the other coming from three years later (review). This earlier reading is just as convincing, not least because in his compositions Koppel was strongly influenced by Stravinsky and knew the idiom from the perspective of both composer and executant.

Both the Riisager pieces that follow are on a previous Danacord twofer called ‘Thomas Jensen conducts Scandinavian Classics’ (review). The Little Overture for Strings and the Trumpet Concerto, played by the outstanding British trumpeter George Eskdale, were for many their first exposure to the music of the composer when they were released on Tono 78s.

The second disc offers an intriguing programme taken from a live broadcast given at a United Nations Day concert in Paris in October 1962, and which fell under the auspices of the International Society for Contemporary Music. Jensen was asked to direct Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony but his hearing problems meant that Monolith by Vagn Holmboe was substituted (it’s not in this twofer). The other missing item is Ravel’s Tzigane, played by Henryk Szeryng, for which scant rehearsal time had been available and which duly fell apart in performance. In fact, the travails of this concert – insufficient rehearsals, a debilitating cold which worsened Jensen’s already compromised hearing, and limited time with Szeryng - make for saddening if salutary reading.

At least Galina Vishnevskaya stayed firm, singing with reflective intimacy and drama two contrasting pieces from Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Szeryng and Jensen did collaborate successfully in Bartók’s Violin Concerto No 2 though his commercial recording with Haitink is obviously the first port of call. The other work is Honegger’s Fifth Symphony. Jensen is good in the work’s doggedness but sounds tentative - one wonders how often he had performed the work – and it must have been difficult to layer its coloration given his illness. In the end – and one has to judge by musical results not sympathy for the performer – the results are too often laboured. As with Shostakovich, Mravinsky and Kondrashin, it’s not fair to contrast Jensen with Serge Baudo who recorded the work so magnificently in the studio in stereo with the Czech Philharmonic the following year but I’m afraid a potential purchaser needs to know the limitations in historic performances.

In all honesty, this twofer must be heard in the context of a musician’s ailing powers and it possibly allows one to reflect on the fears, frustrations and failures that Jensen must have felt. This isn’t something that normally crops up in reviewing schedules but is part of an artist’s life. I can’t recommend this disc in its entirety as the two symphonies are weakly done but I do admire Jensen’s bravery and stubbornness in carrying on, as I do Martin Granau’s honest booklet notes.

Jonathan Woolf
Recording details
live broadcast October 1963 (Shostakovich Symphony) and live broadcast November 1954 (Stravinsky), Danish Radio Concert Hall: January 1949, studio recordings (Riisager): October 1962, live broadcast (Shostakovich arias, Honegger, Bartók), United Nations Day concert, Paris

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