Review by steviev September 12, 2009 (3 of 3 found this review helpful)
|Two early symphonies written by a young, earnest composer.
Symphony 2 “Awakening of Spring”
The first movement opens memorably with ecstatically aerobatic violin figures, reminiscent of Mahler, soaring above Straussian brass choirs and low strings. Though primarily ardent and ecstatic in tone, this long movement maintains interest with a variety of rhythms, textures and moods. It is also notable that the central portion, instead of just presenting contrasting material, contains a compelling and convincing symphonic development -- unusual for Langgaard, and a pleasant surprise. The movement closes “all Marcia” with a brilliant minute-long fusillade of brass, and is especially thrilling in multichannel, but impresses in stereo as well.
The meditative second movement starts with a serene upward floating figure in the strings derived from Grieg’s piano concerto. This music gives way to Martin Luther’s famous chorale, then floats back down again on a cadence derived from a Grieg piano piece. The sequence is repeated a number of times in varied orchestral guises. Its progress is interrupted once by the Spring-like music of the first movement, then a second time by a chromatic interlude featuring a spectral solo violin -– perhaps representing a dark spirit disturbing prayerful reverie. Whatever their meaning, these interludes enliven what could have been an otherwise monotonous piece. I would not be surprised if this movement began life as an organ improvisation by the young composer.
The finale with soprano soloist is a setting of the poem “Spring Sounds” by one Emil Rittershaus. This is a paean to the advent of Spring, and characterizes nature’s first post-winter stirrings of life as living tribute to the Creator. It’s quite Romantic. Langgaard’s setting is suitably gleeful and unbuttoned, very much reminding me of Korngold at his finest. The soprano does a fine job, ardently conveying the spirit of this rapturous piece, though I do wish she had been recorded at a lower volume. There is also a bad edit at 1:55 where the violins suddenly drop out. It disturbs, and should have been corrected.
This is a magnificent symphony. It was Langgaard’s most performed work in his lifetime, and deservedly so.
Symphony 3 “The Flush of Youth – La Melodia”
Especially coming after the second symphony, the third is a serious disappointment. Its outer movements are basically a conflation of the Schumann and Grieg piano concertos set astride a newly composed funereal slow movement. The composer should have torn up the outer movements and built a fresh composition around the middle movement -– it is the only one much worth hearing.
And I think he would have benefited by eliminating the piano part altogether, because it often seems that Langgaard’s imagination is straitjacketed by Schumann and Grieg, as if any piano-orchestra combination must feature piano figuration derived from these models. Langgaard occasionally tries to write his way out of self-confinement, but keeps returning to the same source as if he knows no other piano concertos. I pity the soloist! Learning his part must have been pure drudgery.
It must be admitted that the build-up to the brief choral part (starting about seven minutes into the finale) is somewhat affecting, but also a bit maudlin depending on one’s mood. Other than that and the six minute slow movement, I could happily live without ever hearing this “symphony” again.
Performances of both works are absolutely passionate and committed.
Sound is superb, but the timpani are too resonant for my taste, especially in stereo mode. Brass also seem a bit dull compared to MCH programme. On the other hand the soprano in Symphony 2 has a more pleasing balance with the orchestra in stereo. Go figure.
Notes are thorough and interesting. English and German translations for Symphony 2’s finale are provided, but are unhelpfully separated from the Danish original, requiring much page turning to follow the text line by line.
Strongly recommended for the Second Symphony.
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