Aalborg Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in June and October 2001 at Symfonien, Aalborg, Denmark in association with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation
CD No: DACAPO 8.224205 Duration: Reviewed: April 2003
Herman D Koppel Volume 2 (Dacapo)
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
My enthusiastic welcome to Volume 1 see review link, which includes some Koppel biography ensured this second leg an immediate audition. In truth, neither symphony here has the stature of those on the first release.
However, the composer had doubts too and withdrew both. My feeling is that these particular works might have been left as the final issue (an appendix) of this very welcome Koppel survey. That said, both symphonies have their moments, more than that in fact. Whats lacking sometimes is a strong sense of structure. The first movement of No.1 (1930), a mix of Nielsen and Hindemith, has power and energy; Koppel is announcing himself pugnaciously and with imagination for textures and sonority, yet theres a lack of gel. The slow movement is a tense Adagio, tragic in tone, elegiac lines for strings carry great import, and scherzo-like material lifts some of the burden, even if the rhythms are a little sticky. The Finale tries to march proud, but its a noisy and angular parade. One can understand Koppel regarding his First Symphony as apprentice one must applaud him though for recognising its faults and for setting high critical standards.
The 40-minute Seconds withdrawal is less easy to appreciate. Koppels clarity of thought (and orchestration) is altogether more assured in this war symphony from 1943, Denmark having been occupied for three years. The opening refrain sounds English as does quite a lot of Scandinavian music, Vagn Holmboe and Robert Simpson share common territory with a Vaughan Williams sense of optimism in times of despair, although the lucidity of the writing is more akin to Lennox Berkeley. Propulsion and expressive half-lights intermingle as the first movement strives then sinks into reverie, memorable ideas and contrapuntal skills sustaining the movements direction into which a dancing fugue naturally weaves itself; innate use of solo wind and brass emphasises Koppels soliloquy. The reflective coda is curiously similar to its counterpart in Shostakovichs Leningrad Symphony, which pre-dates Koppels work by a year.
If the first movement is an impressive achievement, then the ensuing Andante meanders somewhat, speech patterns against more chattering motion lead to a strenuous climax. High-lying strings offer sought-after radiance and a more celestial countenance. Vaughan Williamss Fifth Symphony, and thus The Pilgrims Progress, comes to mind.
The long Finale emerges from shadows, from quiet contemplation of a better world; such thoughts brusquely thrust aside by irregular rhythms and bare orchestration, and a predatory use of motive. Clashes can easily be heard as war-related, so too disquieting and visionary interludes; there is no resolution, and strikingly so.
I think Koppel was being hard on himself by striking this work from his catalogue, certainly in this fine performance, another triumph for Atzmon and his orchestra (dont miss their Doráti disc on BIS). Koppel Volume 3 is awaited; and do snap up Volume 1.