KAYSER: Symphony No. 2 (1939). Symphony No. 3 (1943-53).
Coro Misto, Aalborg Symphony Orchestra/Matthias Aeschbacher.
Da Capo 8.224708 (F) (DDD) TT: 72:39

Charlie McNielsen. For a composer, the Dane Leif Kayser has led an interesting life. Hailed as Nielsen's successor, he put music to the side to become a Roman Catholic priest for many years. He then obtained a release from his vows in order to marry and returned to music full-time.

I've always wondered about those who want the next Nielsen or the next Shostakovich or the next Whomever. Often, the original is artistically unique. Even Brahms isn't the next Beethoven, but the one and only Brahms. The problem with becoming the Next comes down to the low odds of ever becoming as good. Indeed, those who produce through imitation something as good as the model tend to run rare on the ground. Most such composers remind me of ventriloquists' dummies, rather than of artists with something of their own to say. On the other hand, Weinberg has written as well as Shostakovich. Clarke (though not Jacobi) has written as well as Bloch. I can't think of many more similar successes.

Kayser's Second Symphony, in its harmonic language and in the shape of its themes, owes a lot to Nielsen's Third, but Kayser really does write something as good. The counterpoint, so good it stuns you, may even surpass Nielsen's. On the other hand, I find it difficult to shake Nielsen from my mind. The experience of listening resembles examining a brilliant forgery. I kept thinking, "This is beautiful, but I've been here before." Perhaps others won't have this difficulty. Kayser occasionally uses a wordless chorus, a tasteful "ahh" here and there, plus reinforcement at the end of the entire work. I find the chorus largely unnecessary.

As you can tell from the dates above, the Third Symphony took much longer to write than the Second. It's more dissonant, inhabiting Nielsen's idiom of, say, the Sixth Symphony or the Clarinet Concerto. The liner notes, for no good reason, bring Schoenberg's dodecaphony into the discussion, but the symphony has really so little dissonance, this point should never have come up. Still, a very nice symphony. If you like Nielsen, you'll probably like this.

I would call the performances sturdy, rather than stellar. Another problem of sounding like Nielsen is that I keep comparing this performance to the great Nielsen performances -- Bernstein, Blomstedt, and so on. How much better this would sound, I say to myself, if only the Berlin Philharmonic played it.

S.G.S. (October 2007)