|RUED LANGGARD 1893-1952 Solo piano music Rosalind Bevan (piano) recorded Carl Nielsen Academy of Music, 1998 ClassicO CLASSCD 240||
Rued Langgard is one of the wild men of music and these avant-garde pieces are certainly wild, unpredictable, full of disturbing contrasts, unusual and stimulating.
Think of Langgard in much the same sense as Charles Ives, Leo Ornstein, Henry Cowell or Percy Grainger. He was immensely prolific despite the neglect and antipathy he attracted. His symphonies have been recorded complete by Danacord although the odd symphony has been recorded by Chandos and others. He studied with Nielsen though quite briefly and later felt that his own music had been unjustly eclipsed by him.
Afgrundsmusik (Music of the Abyss) (1924) 16:16 This is a modernist Bachian piece at a funereal pace. The eddies and currents suggest Frank Bridge in his piano sonata with which Afgrundsmusik is approximately contemporaneous. When the piece was premiered the modernism must have come as a shock. The music has significant stretches of quiet music. All the lines are clear with none of the great complexity of Sorabji. Other suggested voices include Bernard van Dieren and some of John Foulds’ Essays in the Modes. There is great march proceeding at a stately Handelian gait which collapses into an exactly repeated downward bell-motif which becomes as disruptive to the progress of the music as the side-drum in Nielsen Symphony No 5. The second of the two segments is clangorous and violently patterned. Ripped glissandi are in evidence slashing the texture. Langgard seems to set a perhaps rather noble formal idea running and then attacks it with jagged violence. The work ends rather like a Havergal Brian symphony in a sense of apparent negation or inconclusion.
Insektarium (1917) 9:13 These nine ‘puzzle pictures’ are all very brief. They are populated with stilt-like creatures scuttling and skittering in colourful abandon. Each is a close-up, breath-held experience. Bevan excels in gradation of volume and can play with widest dynamic contrast. The insects are Earwig, Locust, Cockchafer, Daddy Long-legs, Dragonfly, Beetle, Housefly, Millipede and Mosquito. At one stage the pianist has to knock on the piano lid and also reach inside the piano and pluck the strings. Now what would Langgard have done if he had had Conlon Nancarrow’s player piano?
Vanvidsfantasi (Mad Fantasy) (1947-49) 15:07 The madness referred to is that of Langgaard’s hero, Robert Schuman. Proceedings open in rippling super-romantic Brahmsianism but soon the distorting mirror is held up to the music and an impressionistic decay settles over the proceedings. The Brahmsian drama fades into Fauré and perhaps Chopin. Langgard soon returns to true North and snatches shreds of Schumann’s piano concerto and many other works into a tripartite concert paraphrase of great power and charm - a strange combination but achieved here. The three movements are Mad Autumn Night; Autumn Angel and Mad Pace. The last section sounds like a grand mix of Schumann, John Foulds and Beethoven. Langgaard’s fourth symphony also reflects autumnal themes and was subtitled ‘Lovfald’ (Leaf-fall). This music, written in a largely anachronistic style absorbed from Schumann’s works, parallels the work of contemporary composers such as Robin Holloway (very apt given his predilection for Robert Schumann’s music) and George Rochberg and others who deliberately arrogated the styles of expression used by composers of the high-classical era.
Blomstervignetter I (1913) and II (1951) 8:06 6:03 Now for some relaxation. These pieces date from the chronological extremes spanned by this ClassicO anthology. There is less straightforward picture-painting here than in Insektarium. In the first set these are sophisticated salon-pieces as you would expect to come from the hand of Schumann or Brahms and it was Brahms who came most often to mind listening to these vignettes. The second set of four pieces comes from almost forty years later yet although the currents and shadings lightly reflect later influences (the notes suggest Scriabin - I remain to be convinced) the language is agreeably locked into German romanticism and perhaps some Chopin.
Le Béguinage Little Piano Sonata (1948-49) 16:35 Langgard is determined to be eccentric here. The sonata is in five movements. The first sounds decidedly Viennese and urbane. Notes swirl and dash but more often luxuriate. The anarchic cross-currents smash into the romantic textures quite often disturbing their flow. The mixed senses of decay and vitality hangs heavily over this strange work which shares much in spirit with Afgrundsmusik. The two works seem to spring from the same territory although the sonata is the more extreme. There is in the third and most dynamic of the five movements a taste of Sorabji. The next movement a rather stiffly formal dance (Quasi Organo) sounds positively Beethovenian with, maybe, some Busoni. This time the style is allowed its head without modernistic assault. On first hearing you expect that some bell-like crashing device will be used to smash the atmosphere. Sometimes the bass-line hints and finally it comes at 3:48 nevertheless it is in fact one of the most straightforward tracks on the whole disc and would make a representative sample track to play to the curious. The final movement is haltingly streamed but and has a strong atmosphere of resigned regret which the notes associate with Langgaard’s neglect by the musical establishment. This too is a wonderful track which has something of Medtner about it without the dense complexity.
Detailed and absolutely indispensable notes in Danish and English are by Søren Hallundbaek Schauser. A fascinating disc well worth having. Performances seem utterly convincing and masterly.
Perhaps you have been bewildered after trying one of the symphonies. Try this disc as an alternative route to exploring Langgaard. While there are modernistic anarchic elements the music is extremely approachable and enjoyable. There have been other collections of Langgard piano music but I can strongly recommend this one for its consistent interest, surprising pleasures, engagement and concentrated pianism.
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