A couple of months ago I attempted a review of Børresen's symphonies
2 and 3 on Marco Polo Da Capo (8.224061). At that time I had not heard the
above to compare the recording and performance.
Instead of a Danish orchestra conducted by a Welshman we here have a German
orchestra conducted by a Dane: the redoubtable Ole Schmidt. Schmidt seems
rather underused in the record industry. His Unicorn LPs and then CDs of
the Nielsen symphonies broke new ground (in modern times) in the 1970s. His
1980(?) conducting of Havergal Brian's Gothic at the Royal Albert Hall was
an indelibly memorable experience (never issued commercially though there
is a BBC tape). Some of his own compositions are on Da Capo as are various
collections of Danish music. He has recorded Ludolf Nielsen's Second Symphony
for CPO and there is a well thought of Borodin collection on budget price
Tring. In the late 70s he conducted a sequence of early Niels Viggo Bentzon
Symphonies for the BBC.
SYMPHONY NO. 2 THE SEA (1904)
The symphony is written in a style not far away from
Mendelssohn, Dvorák and Schumann but with Tchaikovskian moments.
This is firmly rooted in the 19th century so you must not despite the
evocative movement titles (Surf, Tragedy etc) expect romantic impressionism.
As I have said previously this is more in the nature of Rubinstein's
Ocean Symphony. This is still invigorating stuff and in a performance
much more brisk and lively than the Marco Polo/Da Capo one. The noble
yet half submissive big theme is memorable and returns in the finale.
The second movement is taken at a smart clip with shades of Mendelssohn's
Midsummer Night's Dream and a Brucknerian woodland magic. There
is a grave slow movement (Tragedy) which is more head-bowed than fist
shaking. The last movement returns to the Tchaikovskian and Mendelssohnian
atmosphere. An entertaining and attractive symphony but not strikingly
original. This performance is to be preferred to the lower voltage Marco
Ian Lace adds:-
Many composers have been inspired by the sea. The French composers Debussy
and Chausson wrote La Mer and Poème de l'amour et de la
mer respectively. A number of English composers were inspired too: Elgar
(Sea Pictures), Vaughan Williams (A Sea Symphony), Bax (Tintagel) and Bridge
(The Sea) to name just a few. Of the Nordic composers , one immediately thinks
of Atterberg and his splendid Third "West Coast Pictures"
Symphony, and of Alfvén's Fourth Symphony (On the Archipelago's
Edge). Børresen's Sea Symphony is very much akin and in
the Nordic tradition of these two.
The sea, itself, might be regarded as visual music. Excuse the poetic imagery,
but consider the colour represented by the play of light and wind; the harmony
and counterpoint of eddies and currents, the ebb and flow of the tides, the
contrasting depths, and becalmed as opposed to storm-tossed waves etc.
Børresen's strength as a composer lies in his gift for intricate harmonies
and filigree counterpoint plus his virile rhythmic writing which is often
very intricate - listen for instance how well he evokes the restless sea
with its constantly shifting rhythmic patterns (often with several rhythmic
metres running side by side) in the first movement of his Sea Symphony,
easily the strongest of the four. The Mendelssohnian influence that Rob speaks
of is very prevalent in the second movement while the unspecified Tragedy
of the third movement has seemingly little to do with the sea although the
climactic peroration might be likened, at a pinch, to a storm at sea.
(Børresen is unusaul in eschewing a specific storm evocation.) The
finale is like the opening movement evocative and thrilling enough but in
the final analysis I prefer most of the other sea-inspired works I mentioned
SYMPHONY NO. 3 (1927)
The first of the four movements is dominated by a jerky upward-clawing theme
which sounds distinctly Elgarian. The music is more original and holds the
attention more successfully than the second symphony. The language is still
not far removed from Dvorák and the other nineteenth century romantics
but it is more personal. The ideas are not as consistently interesting as
those in the second symphony but are still very much worth hearing.
The notes by Hayo Nörenberg are trilingual (German, English and French
- no Danish)
If I had to choose I would select the CPO for symphonies 2 and 3 and the
Marco Polo for the much more obviously Tchaikovskian first symphony and violin
concerto. Do not expect Sibelian concentration or originality. Borresen was
no Nielsen but he did write music that should be heard. If you enjoy
Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony, the Bruch symphonies, Raff or Dvorák
then seek out this disc. You are unlikely to complain and will likely gain
a new friend.
Ian Lace adds:-
Børresen's Third Symphony was written some nineteen years after his
Sea Symphony. It is more mature, less outgoing, deeper and more hesitant.
The long opening movement begins darkly and is an intensely personal statement.
The inner movements are quite short: the Adagio is rather Gothic in parts,
at other times it is romantically dramatic - I could easily visualise it
being used to underscore a 1940s Joan Crawford or Bette Davis film; the
Allegretto is something of an elegant valse triste. The final Rondo bursts
in helter skelter in puckish mood but more malevolent material is waiting
in the wings and the music grows increasingly