Overture in D
Symphony in E flat
Symphony in G minor
Lars Ulrik Mortensen
Recorded between 17-21 May 2004 in Garnisons Kirke, Copenhagen
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: April 2006
CD No: CPO 777 085-2
Duration: 62 minutes
Gone are the days when it was the “kiss of death” (Christopher Hogwood’s description) for record companies to issue 18th/19th-century symphonies not composed by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven or Schubert. Naxos has led the way in this revolution – especially in the German and Austrian fields along with some Swedish music. I have enjoyed a superb NM Classics disc of rare Dutch symphonies. Capriccio has dared to issue symphonies by one of the greatest of the neglected: Gaetano Brunetti.
CPO has also been adventurous and this new issue features Danish composers Georg Gerson (1790-1825, a contemporary of Schubert) and Friedrich Ludwig Aemilius Kunzen (1761-1817, a contemporary of Mozart).
Gerson’s Symphony is a very grand affair and does not seem to be derivative in any way. It is lyrical in nature – structured like Schubert or Weber but without resembling either of those composers melodically; occasionally, however, there is a foreshadowing of Mendelssohn (who would barely have reached kindergarten at this time (1813). The calm opening movement unhurriedly expounds several themes and the instrumentation (standard classical orchestration) is used with originality. The very opening is subtly dissonant and for the two horns to take over the main theme at the recapitulation is a strikingly unexpected change of colour. This expansive thirteen-minute movement is followed by a relatively brief Andante featuring a dance-like melody, the Minuet is very thoroughly worked out – the trio was composed four years later than most of the music and replaced the original. The finale too had to wait until 1817 for its completion.
In form, the work gives the impression of being an expanded version of a Haydn symphony, but where Haydn’s themes are often compact and make their effect through sudden contrast, Gerson expounds his in a more leisurely manner. To his great credit, the Lars Ulrik Mortensen is wise enough never to hurry this music; there is much detail in the melodies and nothing would be served by rushing through them. The whole work takes 33 minutes yet the structure is clearly drawn; nothing outstays its welcome.
Kunzen is from a generation earlier. Knud Ketting in his very informative booklet note concedes the influence of Mozart and mentions that Kunzen actually directed some of Mozart’s music in Frankfurt. The generally assumed date of composition of this G minor Symphony is 1795 (although the autograph is undated). There are times however (the beginnings of the first and last movements for example) when the calm seriousness of the music recalls Kraus (born 1756) even more strongly than Mozart. The Andante has the oboe singing an operatic type of melody over a gentle string and horn accompaniment and the dancing Minuet has elements of Lanner in it. Only in the finale does Kunzen use the dark key of G minor to create serious tension.
The excellent playing – directed in a firm, unfussy, classical manner by Mortensen – is perfectly suited to both symphonies. The well-balanced recording makes the most of the generous church acoustic without ever losing detail.
It would be a good idea for all those new to this music (and that is surely most of us) to start by listening to the D major Overture that begins the disc (the slow introduction is actually in a dark minor mode) as preparation for the delights of Gerson’s beautifully crafted symphony.