I am not a great enthusiast of ‘historic recordings’, usually preferring the latest CD or download version of any given work (assuming the performance is great). There are exceptions to this ‘rule’ either when the work is unavailable in any other recording or when there is near-universal agreement that Boult’s, Beecham’s, Barbirolli’s (or whoever’s) reading of a particular work is ‘the best.’ And then there are my favourite pianists – Moura Lympany, Myra Hess, Eileen Joyce – all of whom I happily accept in less-than-perfect recordings. In that case it is their interpretation and personality that matters: not the surface noise.
Boyd Neel’s name immediately caught my attention on the track listing with his String Orchestra’s rendering of Asger Hamerik’s Symphonie Spirituelle. I was introduced to a number of well-known pieces of British music by this orchestra on the old Decca Eclipse label, so I have a soft spot for him. Add to that the fact that he did much to bring then-contemporary English string music into the public domain and he is a hero of mine. Hamerik’s work is the sixth of seven symphonies (there is also an unnumbered symphony in C minor, op.3 (1860) which is lost) and was composed in 1897. It was scored for a large string orchestra. Rob Barnett (MWI, November 2009) is right in suggesting that it recalls/foreshadows Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, Frank Bridge’s Suite for Strings and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. It is a beautifully contrived work that is full of depth, poetry and reflection. Nevertheless, I wonder if it just a wee bit long for its own good. I know there are other versions of this work currently available, but Boyd Neel’s 1945 recording will satisfy me.
I listen to Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony about once a year. Reviewing this CD makes it twice so far in 2015. There are currently 92 versions of this masterpiece currently listed in the Arkiv catalogue so one cannot explore them all. I have a preference for Antony Collins’ reading (another historical recording to prove my rule!) and Osmo Vänskä and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra on BIS. (BIS-CD-863)
Many years ago I bought another Decca Eclipse LP: this time of Sibelius’s Karelia Suite and the gargantuan Fifth Symphony (ECS 502). It was my introduction to the great Finn. Alas, some thirty years ago, I gave away/sold/lost this album. I have not heard it since. Imagine my surprise when researching this present CD I found that Danacord have presented this self-same recording (The Danish State Broadcasting Orchestra conducted Erik Tuxen) on this release. The same applies to Thomas Jensen conducting the DSBO in the ‘Karelia’ suite. It is fantastic to have them back in my CD collection.
The second disc is devoted to a number of ‘minor’ works. The opening overture by J.P.E. Hartmann was written for the tragedy Hakon Jarl by Adam Oehlenschläger. The liner notes describe it as a ‘Nordic’ tone poem that is full of tragedy and foreboding. This is a most moving piece.
Erik Tuxen conducts the DBSO once again in this 1953 recording of Johann Svendsen’s flamboyant Festival Polonaise: a definite crowd-pleaser if ever these was one.
I am not a fan of Carl Nielsen, but his Aladdin Suite, originally written as incidental music, is enjoyable. So too is ‘The Cockerel’s Dance’ from Maskarade. Nothing very demanding: but quite fun.
Knudåge Riisager’s Introduction to ‘Niels Ebbesen’ is filmic in its expansive and sweeping exposition. Svend Erik Tarp’s enjoyable ‘Comedy’ Overture is one of those pieces of music that is hard to define. Is it contemporary, pastiche or light? Who knows: but I feel it is one of the best wrought pieces on this second CD.
There is a definite magic about Emil Reesen’s Danish Rhapsody than seems inspire thoughts of Hans Christian Andersen as well as something a little more romantic. It is based on folk songs gathered in Jutland. We hear dancing, harvest-home songs and the poetry of a warm summer’s evening.
My favourite piece on this second CD is the ‘Tango Jalousie’ by Jacob Gade – apparently no relation to the other Gades of Danish music. This is one of those pieces that the listener seems to have always known – definite end of the pier music. Sadly, it would appear to be the only piece that is played from Gade’s catalogue.
The CD concludes with two fine numbers by H.C. Lumbye, onetime maestro at the Tivoli Gardens. The Copenhagen Railway Steam-Galop complete with a battery of locomotive sound effects is one of the best pieces of ‘train’ music: I could listen to this over and over again. Its recording date of 1933 does nothing to diminish the exuberance and sheer fun of this piece of persiflage. The final work is the equally exciting Champagne-Galop: just the thing to conclude a visit to Copenhagen’s remarkable Tivoli Gardens, although a glass of beer in the Nyhavn would also be a treat…
I was most impressed with the sound restoration on this CD. Perhaps it just goes to prove how relatively good recording technology was, especially in the post-war years. Danacord have presented a packed programme which is exceptionally varied in its musical explorations. The liner notes by Claus Byrith are excellent and informative.
I guess that the highlight for me is the above noted rediscovery of an old favourite recording of Sibelius 5. However, there is plenty to enjoy, in the ‘lollipops’ in the second CD – especially the Tango Jalousie and Lumbye’s train music A great collection of interesting music that deserves our attention.
Disc 1 of 2
Asger HAMERIK (1843-1923) Symphonie Spirituelle (1897)
Boyd Neel String Orchestra / Boyd Neel
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Symphony No. 5 (1915 rev. 1916, 1919)
The Danish State Broadcasting Orchestra/Erik Tuxen
Jean SIBELIUS Karelia-Suite (1893)
The Danish State Broadcasting Orchestra/Thomas Jensen
Disc 2 of 2
J. P. E. HARTMANN (1805-1900) Overture to ‘Hakon Jarl’ (1844)]
The Danish State Broadcasting Orchestra/John Frandsen
Johan SVENDSEN (1840-1911) Festival Polonaise (1873)
The Danish State Broadcasting Orchestra/ Erik Tuxen
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931) Incidental Music to Aladdin (c.1919)
The Tivoli Symphony Orchestra/Svend Christian Felumb
Carl NIELSEN Introduction to [Scene] 7. The Mother (1920) [2:45] Cockerel's Dance from Maskarade (1904-6) [3:49]
The Tivoli Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Jensen
Knudåge RIISAGER (1897-1974) Introduction to ‘Niels Ebbesen’ (1948)
The Royal Orchestra/Johan Hye-Knudsen
Svend Erik TARP (1908-1994) Comedy Overture (1942)
The Tivoli Symphony Orchestra/Svend Christian Felumb
Emil REESEN (1887-1964) Himmerland, Danish Rhapsody (1926)
The Danish State Broadcasting Orchestra/Emil Reesen
Jacob GADE (1879-1963) Tango Jalousie (1925)
Wandy Tworek (violin) The Danish State Broadcasting Orchestra/Emil Reesen
H. C. LUMBYE (1810-1874) Copenhagen Railway Steam-Galop (1847)
The Tivoli Symphony Orchestra/Carlo Andersen
H. C. LUMBYE Champagner-Galop (1845) ]
The Royal Orchestra/Georg Høeberg
DANACORD DACOCD 757-8 [Mono]