Echoes of Ossian, Op.1
Agnete and the Mermaids, Op.31
In the Blue Grotto
Overture: The Little Match Girl
Twelve with the Mail, Op.37 – August; October
It’s Quite True!
Hans Christian Lumbye
The Dance of the Joy of Life
The Tinder Box, Op.612
Intrada seria, Op.34
Freedom Overture, Op.13
Variations for Orchestra over the Danish Radio Signal
Drapa, BVN20 (At the Death of Edvard Grieg)
Svend S. Schultz
Overture to Thunderstorm
2Mogens Wieth (narrator)
1Else Brems (mezzo-soprano)
The Danish Radio Choir
Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra
Recorded: 1950 (Gade) 1951 (Lumbye), 1955, 1957 (live performances) at Danish Broadcasting Corporation Studio 1
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: Danacord DACOCD 883 [2 CDs]
Duration: 134 minutes
Launy Grøndahl is here presented as a notable champion of the music of his compatriots. Recordings of music by Gade and Lumbye have been transferred from HMV Z series 78s, the remainder are from two public performances of April 1, 1955, and May 5, 1957.
Niels Gade (1817-1890) is the earliest composer represented. His overture Echoes of Ossian is probably his best known work. It is symphonic in nature and foreshadows how he was to construct his eight symphonies. The transfer from the HMV 78s of 1950, though lacking top frequencies, gives a reasonable representation of this fully-scored work. Two years later, famous choreographer August Bournonville required various composers to provide music for his ballet Napoli; Gade was responsible for that of the second act entitled ‘The Blue Grotto’. The warmly orchestrated piece of that title anticipates Gade’s later romantic style. Another transfer from 78s is Dream Pictures by Hans Christian Lumbye (who was also a contributor to Napoli) This is one of the best-known pieces by ‘The Danish Waltz King’ a tuneful tone-poem in which most of the themes are in waltz time.
Six composers are featured in the concert of 1955. The recorded sound is more than acceptable; the acoustics of the Danish Broadcasting Company concert hall – known generally as Studio 1 – add tonal richness while also permitting clarity.
August Enna’s Overture to The Little Match Girl is perhaps the best known of the works in this 1955 concert because Johan Hye-Knudsen’s 1937 recording was long available and often broadcast. Dating from 1893, this is a beautiful and gentle example of the 19th-century romantic overture. The concert was Hans Christian Andersen-based and its first item was Gade’s setting of Agnete and the Mermaids for female voice and chorus with orchestra. Else Brems sings with elegance and the booklet provides words in English – easy to follow since intercessions of the chorus are noted.
Knudåge Riisager has fun with the twelve months of the year – based again on Andersen with his satirical tale of the Mail Coach’s monthly stop. ‘August’ is represented by a jolly Polka which subsides into Prokofiev-like harmonies, and in ‘October’ it sounds as if the horses are no longer pulling the coach but have taken to hunting.
Finn Høffding, who lived through almost every year of the 20th century, also based his Symphonic Fantasy on Andersen. A question seems to be asked by bassoon at the start and again later on but despite the positive title: ‘It’s Quite True’ there is no comforting reply, indeed the harmonically challenging music features agonised forcefulness. The work is from 1940 – could it be that Nazi invasion of Denmark in April of that year influenced the anguish of the piece?
The Dance of the Joy of Life by Fini Henriques from the ballet The Little Mermaid also pays tribute to Andersen. It is a wildly joyful piece, rather like a galop in rhythm and unrelentingly cheerful. Surprisingly, there is applause at the end – rarely welcome on a CD but so joyful is the music that perhaps it may be forgiven. Andersen’s The Tinder Box is represented as narration set to music by Poul Schierbeck. The voice of Mogens Wieth is clear, positive and very forwardly balanced. An English translation of the entire script is included in the accompanying booklet and since Wieth provides a different type of voice for of each character it is possible to follow the Danish words. Not really a musical experience and I find the story uncomfortable. It is about the soldier who gains a throne and the hand of a princess by killing a witch, the king’s councillors, the king and the queen.
The second disc of the set features six twentieth century composers from a concert given on May 5, 1957. Conductor and composer Peder Gram was active in the Danish music scene for many years and was Director of Danish Radio from 1937 until his retirement in 1951. His brief Tone Poem Intrada Seria dates from shortly after World War 2. Harmonies are daring, orchestration is forceful and solemnity leads to optimistic resolution.
1945 saw the liberation of Denmark from the German invaders, and 27-year-old Henning Wellejus was one of several who wrote music to commemorate the event. Not ashamed to incorporate fragments of well-known melodies, he includes a song concerning previous Prussian occupation and Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March a quote from which was used to boost morale during the second World War. Wellejus gives us a modern tone poem – not as tuneful or cheerful as might have been expected but listeners will have picked up the popular musical references.
Variations for Orchestra over the Danish Radio Signal by Ebbe Hamerik will please Danish Radio listeners as the theme was used to close daily programmes. The melody is about seven centuries old, to which skilfully orchestrated variations have been added. Despite the title, this is a serious work starting calmly and including dramatic minor-keyed variations before returning to the simplicity of the original melody.
Langgaard’s At the Death of Edvard Grieg was written for that composer’s funeral in 1907 and revised a few years later. This performance is possibly of the revision. It is a suitably moving piece building to a climax halfway through, succeeded by a solemn march-like section in a rhythm similar to that found in Grieg’s own Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak. Langgaard’s thoughtful tribute was ideal for the occasion and it is all the more remarkable since he was only fourteen when he composed it.
The entertaining Salzburg Overture by Grøndahl’s friend and colleague Walther Schrøder is a forceful, extravagantly orchestrated mid-twentieth century piece, not particularly Austrian in nature. This was the premiere performance.
Svend Schulz, familiar outside Denmark for little more than his delightful Serenade for Strings, was mainly a choral composer. He was conductor of the Danish Radio Choir for over thirty years. He also composed film music but no recordings of his five Symphonies seem to be available. His 1954 Opera Thunderstorm is subtitled ’Da Søren blev Mand’ (When Søren became Man). The colourful overture increases in intensity over a strong repetitive rhythm but is not really suggestive of a thunderstorm. It is harmonically challenging but no more so than most works of the 1950s.
The whole production is an excellent tribute to Grøndahl and a treasure trove of largely unfamiliar Danish music.