ATTERBERG: Värmlands Rhapsody, Op. 36. Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 7. Overture in A minor, Op. 4.
Ulf Wallin, violinist; Berlin Radio Symphony Orch/Roger Epple, cond.
cpo 777 106 (F) TT: 59:26

LUDOLF NIELSEN: Isabella Overture, Op. 10. Lackschmi (An Indian Love Tale).
Queensland Symphony Orch/Werner Andreas Albert, cond.
cpo 777 072 (F) TT: 66:50

AUGUST ENNA: Overture to Den lilli pige med svovlstikkeme. C.E.F. WEYSE: "Sigojnerdans" from Festen pa Kenilworth. POUL SCHIERBECK: I Danmark er jeg fodt, Op. 43 (Prelude for Strings). J.P.E. HARTMANN: Overture to Ravnen, Op. 12. LOUIS GLASS: Episoder of H. C. Andersen's eventyr "Elverhoj." FINN HOFFDING: Det et ganske vist, Op. 37.
Odense Symphony Orch/Ole Schmidt, cond.
DACAPO 8.226047 (F) TT: 53:12


The three Scandinavian nations that share a linguistic as well as ethnic heritage – which is to say Denmark, Norway and Sweden – have proselytized on behalf of their native composers for nearly three centuries, yet only Grieg enjoyed an international reputation (albeit considerably faded by now). Carl Nielsen was not widely recognized as a master symphonist until the Postwar-2 period, while the Swedes have yet to produce a composer of world-acclaimed celebrity despite several of genuine distinction. Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974) is a notable example, although it remains to be discovered whether cpo’s extended sponsorship on discs – to date all 9 symphonies, a recent CD of music for strings, and now a seriously beautiful Violin Concerto from 1913, coupled with a 1911 Concert Overture that was his first work publicly performed (at Goteborg), along with the First Symphony – will establish his music in the international repertoire. The gently Romantic Värmland Rhapsody came later, in 1933, but only a few additional works for orchestra remain to be recorded. Ulf Wallin, who conducted the string-music CD, is a superb soloist in the concerto both expressively and technically. He is supported in kind by the young German conductor Roger Epple (most recently represented in cpo’s impressive recording of Siegfried [son of Richard] Wagner’s opera Sonnenflammen, performed at his home base in Halle). Here, Epple conducts the Berlin Radio SO in a hand-in-glove collaboration, finely recorded as well. To miss their achievement, not to neglect Atterberg’s as the composer, could be an act of self-denial. Recommended!

From cpo we also get the recorded premiere of Lackschmi (or An Indian Love Tale), a ballet in two acts composed between 1919 and 1921 by Ludolf Nielsen (1876-1939) before the composer, or Denmark for that matter, had experienced the revolution created by Sergey Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The younger Nielsen was fascinated by the mahabarata legends in Karl Gjellerup’s 1910 novel World Wanderers, but unrelated to Carl, however. His vocabulary, furthermore, was basically tonal in a French-opera style: Stravinsky’s brand of Neo-Classicism had yet to make its way into Danish music. What created a sensation in Copenhagen, however, was not the luridly convoluted plot (unrelated to Delibes’ Lakme) but an exotic physical production and choreography that discarded the Bournenville tradition which had dominated Danish dance for two centuries. The latter’s courtly influence was ignored to the extent that Lackschmi had 23 performances between its premiere in 1922 and 1924 – after which, however, it was never again performed in its complete form on the Royal Theater stage, although published as a piano score in 1923. Nielsen did make an orchestral suite in four parts that was played at a memorial concert for him in 1939. On this disc, the hour-long ballet is prefaced by an overture to Ludolf Nielsen’s single-act opera Isbella, which occupied him from 1903 to 1907, yet had to wait for its premiere until 1915 because of managerial warfare in the offices of the Royal Opera. The Overture, in any event, deserves more performances outside Denmark than it’s ever had, although Launy Groendahl conducted it frequently with the Danish State Radio Orchestra where Ludolf Nielsen spent the last decade-and-a-half of his life as program director and frequent composer of incidental broadcast music. Not knowing his work, either this early overture or the ballet, one assumes that performances by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under Werner Andreas Albert’s direction are idiomatic as well as befittingly theatrical. Vivid engineering by the Australian Broadcasting Company in its Music Center, Studio 420 (but we’re not told in what city!), does justice to the subject matter in this meticulously prepared and played performance.

Finally today, the Danish national recording company, Dacapo, has remastered a 1986 disc of music inspired by Hans Christian Anderson – who was a playwright and librettist as well as teller of fairy tales – played by the Odense orchestra, his home town, under Ole Schmidt’s musically persuasive direction. Say what some already have to the contrary, the Odense Symphony was as expert 20 years ago as it is today, and at least four of the six works on this 53-minute CD are inimitably charming, oustandingly so the Overture to August Enna’s opera based on The Little Match-Girl composed in 1897, not as the program book says 1859, which was Enna’s birthyear (the same as Johann Bohuslav Foerster’s, a year before Mahler’s; like Foerster he lived until 1939). This music whets the appetite for more of Enna’s music, despite his Romantically traditional subject-matter and vocabulary, dating back to Mendelssohn and stopping short of 20th-century Modernism. Captivating, too, is a “Gypsy Dance” from The Feast at Kenilworth by C.E.F. Weyse (1774-1847) – his only operatic collaboration with Andersen, in 1836, and Weyse’s last work for the stage. He was chiefly an organist like his hero Friedrich Kuhlau, whom he suceeded at Our Lady’s Church in Copenhagen while it was still being rebuilt after a bombardment in 1807. His successor at Our Lady’s Church was J.P.E. Hartmann (1805-1900), born the same year as Andersen and his friend for many years. In 1832 they produced The Raven, based on a play by Carlo Gozzi, for which Hartmann wrote a stirringly dramatic overture (his inspiration listeners will recognize immediately) that introduced musical Romanticism into Danish music. Louis Glass (1864-1936) wrote a five-movement suite called Episodes from H.C. Andersen’s Fairy-Tale, “The Elf-Hill” in 1931 that is almost chamber-like in its scoring and substance, music of the 20th-century but not more “advanced” than Ravel or Debussy. More moving is the 1941 Prelude for Strings by Poul Schierbeck (1888-1949) based on his own 1926 setting of Andersen’s poem In Denmark I was born, which replaced Henrik Rung’s 1850 setting of the same text as Denmark’s national song – all the more daring since the Nazis had occupied Denmark by 1941. The disc concludes with Symphonic Fantasy No. 2 by Finn Hoeffding (1899-1997), There’s No Doubt About It (a little feather can grow into five hens), premiered in 1944 as a subtle but daring setting of Andersen during the German Occupation. Musically a clone of Dukas’ Apprentice Sorcerer, it is nonetheless an implicit condemnation of wartime rumor-mongers and collaborationists. Four out of six beguiling works is surely worth investigation and investment, even if you don’t know the composers’ names. Maybe this will help to spur a revival in their repertoire.

R.D. April 2006