DANISH SYMPHONIES OF THE LATE ROMANTIC PERIOD
Danish Radio SO
Rec : Glass 22 Oct 1957; Simonsen 5 Sept 1954; Børresen 3 June 1954; Sandby 19 Mar 1956.
Danacord DACOCD 370-371 [CD1 54.15 + CD2 61.12]
The forebears of this Danacord set are hinted at by the timings of each disc. This was first issued as a 2LP gatefold set in the early 1980s. It even sports the same apposite artwork.
Further back in time we owe the existence of these recordings to the ever-blessed Danish Radio. Grøndahl, a composer in his own right, carved an enduring reputation as a pioneer for Danish music and especially for Nielsen and the late romantics. The recordings are all mono and show their age in varying degrees but leave undimmed the concentration this conductor brought to radio studio and concert hall.
The notes are by Danacord regular, Mogens Wenzel Andreasen, and serve as a miniature guide to Danish symphonists active in the years straddling the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. So many names and so much more yet to hear: P E Lange-Muller, Fini Henriques, August Enna, Ludolf Nielsen, Asger Hamerik, Otto Malling, Victor Bendix, Jens Emborg, Peder Gram and Rued Langgaard.
In the company of Sandby, Børresen and Simonsen, Glass stands shoulder high. He combines in the Fifth Symphony (ominously entitled Sinfonia Svastica - but it is nothing to with the Nazi Swastika!) really memorable ideas with a Tchaikovskian brilliance. His ideas strike home and convince with their burning sincerity.
The symphony is in four titled movements: 1 Dayswork; 2 Rest; 3 Shadows; 4 Dawn. Dayswork has the vivacious rush of In The South and Elgar's Second Symphony mixed in with Tchaikovsky spliced with Nielsen. The movement's horn-lofted ecstasy and 'cracked' reeds lend a chilly open air tang. The orchestra is good but there is a hint of slavonic wobble in the horns. The other movements touch on the Pathétique, contented Delian uplands, warm hazed days, dappled autumn days and a great swoon of a sunrise. In the finale at 8.43 the darting upward and downward strokes are so typical of Elgar 2. The recording and some brief roughnesses of ensemble make this not the ideal (for that you need to hear Michael Schønwandt's off-air 1982 tape with the DRSO) but it is to be preferred to the earth-locked Marco Polo version. There are signs (going by the issued Fourth) that Danacord's valuable premiere intégrale of the six Glass symphonies will serve up a first preference version of No. 5. Until then this historic mono version is the most spirited and closest to the generous soul of the work.
Simonsen was a Nielsen admirer although the influence claimed for Nielsen in the Hellas Symphony escapes me.
There are four Simonsen Symphonies - all from the 1920s:-
No. 1 Zion (1920)
No. 2 Hellas (1921)
No. 3 Roma (1923)
No. 4 Denmark (1925)
Hellas is a work of wirier sinew than the Glass. Of the four symphonies on these CDs this is the one where the grit of the twentieth century is most evident. The piercing tone of the woodwind, the treble-emphasis of the strings, the grinding sustained high pressure recall two much later symphonies - Vaughan Williams' Fourth and Stanley Bate's 1940 Third Symphony. Clawing, chasmal, this is a slow wheeling tempest of a work (especially in the first movement). The movements are entitled: The Orestie; Solitude by the Temples; Pallas Athene.
The Børresen is another proposition altogether. Here we are in neo-Schumann mode. While his very strong First Symphony and Violin Concerto are dramatically Tchaikovskian this work is picturesque and with movement titles (Surf, Summer, Tragedy Yachting) to prove it. We are not that short of recordings either (see CPO and Da Capo) but Grøndahl keeps up the pressure, always at the heels of his players. The last three movements encompass a fruitily woodwind-embellished chase with a memorably charming 'hiccupping' theme (2), an adagio influenced by the great horn lament of Tchaikovsky 5 (3) and a Mendelssohnian finale. Do not expect a highly impressionistic sea picture à la Nystroem or even Alfvén. This belongs to an earlier era closer to Raff and Rubinstein than Sibelius or Madetoja.
Herman Sandby was a much travelled cellist of world renown. He was first cello with the Philadelphia for several years. He was also a close associate of Percy Grainger indeed Grainger had designs on Sandby's wife (according to John Bird, Grainger's biographer). The Fourth (of five) Symphony is the only one of the four here to lack descriptive movement titles. Oddly enough it is also the least symphonic. Its 'tongue' is Delian. It can be likened to the sort of symphony you might have expected Delius to have written had he leaned towards symphonies - a sort of cross between Brigg Fair and North Country Sketches. The symphonic impulse is vestigial. The impression is of a rhapsodic and opulent dance dream. I would still like to hear the other four - 1 (1920), 2, 3, and 5 (1956).
A fine set of historic significance and generating considerable interest both for what it is and as an 'overture' to future recordings of the complete Glass, Sandby and Simonsen. The 'axle' work here is the Glass - a work which will yet secure a prominent reputation and, more to the point, great affection among music-lovers. Recommended.