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Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, December 2011

Rued Langgaard is another of my recent discoveries; indeed, this Dacapo release will surely help to bring this dotty Dane to a much wider audience. These intriguing works are sometimes quixotic, even infuriating, Dausgaard and his orchestra revealing just how original these works really are. Try them if you dare! © MusicWeb International




Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, March 2011

As outsiders go, the Danish composer Rued Langgaard isn’t nearly as radical as, say, the Swiss artist-composer and asylum inmate Adolf Wolfli, whose dark temperament and tragic circumstances helped define the extremes of Art brut, or ‘outsider art’. As it happens, the last Dacapo disc to come my way was Per Nørgård’s extraordinary opera Der göttliche Tivoli, based on the tormented—but strangely uplifting—inner world of Herr Wolfli. For all his oddities, Langgaard is right at the other end of this spectrum, his music—as represented by the works on this disc—characterised by a compactness of structure and utterance. Make no mistake though, the idiom is clearly late-Romantic, just not of the extrovert, heart-on-sleeve variety one associates with Mahler, for instance.

Given that Music of the Spheres is scored for large orchestra, soprano soloist, chorus and ‘distant orchestra’, one might be forgiven for thinking it’s bound to be a variation on Mahler’s ‘singing universe’, a recap of the latter’s Symphony of a Thousand. It’s nothing of the kind; from its near-inaudible beginning and the first appearance of those tremolando strings and timp crescendi, it’s clear this is going to be a much more concentrated, interior piece. Indeed, Langgaard uses his forces sparingly throughout, and the result is a series of discrete—yet curiously connected—musical episodes, the strangeness of which piques one’s interest at every turn.

Yes, Music of the Spheres does have a specific programme, the Symbolist influence mirrored in titles such as: ‘Like sunbeams on a coffin decorated with sweet-smelling flowers’. They are highly evocative pointers, and sometimes oblique, but they don’t ‘unlock’ this music in any meaningful way. For instance, ‘Like stars twinkling in the blue sky at sunset’ could conceivably be suggested by those pulsing timp figures, but all notions of simple pictorialism are quickly dispersed when those drumbeats become darker and more insistent. In that sense, all that matters are the antinomies contained in the score itself, the inner dialectic if you like, and that needs no explanation.

Music of the Spheres has a constant flicker or pulse, a connective tissue that links all 15 sections. Dausgaard and his Danish orchestra manage the finely graded dynamics of Langgaard’s score very well indeed, so that even when we hit those nodal climaxes—the all-pervasive timp crescendo and brief flare of cymbals in ‘Longing—Despair—Ecstasy’—are powerful yet contained. Textures are transparent throughout, Dacapo’s exemplary Super Audio recording homing in on every nuance of this intriguing score. Moreover, the sense of a living, breathing acoustic—another characteristic of the very best SACDs—is ever present.

Voices are introduced in ‘I wish!’, albeit the simple repeated phrase ‘Do re me sol fa la’, while ‘Chaos—Ruin—Far and near’ is not nearly as apocalyptic as its title might suggest. There’s an air of understatement here, an asperity even, yet Langgaard subtly modifies these recurring motifs so they seem eternally fresh and interesting. It’s a remarkable feat of musical (re)invention.

If you still think that sounds too unvaried for your liking, then JUST sample ‘Flowers wither’; here Langgaard has penned a lovely, evanescent minute-and-a-half of the most fragile music imaginable. Quite extraordinary, and most beautifully played. And while I have yet to compare this recording with Rozhdestvensky’s…it seems Dausgaard is much more spacious at times, his ‘Glimpse of the sun through tears’ clocking in at 6:03 as opposed to the Russian’s comparatively swift 5:17. As for ‘The gospel of flowers’ Inger Dam-Jensen is the soloist in this atmospherically distant movement.

‘The new day’ breaks with a sustained, Gurrelieder-like cry from the chorus. Yet one senses that for all its radiance this dawn is somewhat equivocal, affirmation tinged with a penumbra of doubt; indeed, the wordless choir in ‘The end: Antichrist—Christ’ is subsumed by those blood-curdling timps and pealing bells. And although the harp-like swirls and final crescendo do seem to strike a more positive note there’s still a degree of ambivalence, of uncertainty, as the music fades to silence. Enigmatic to the last, this is an engrossing piece, eloquently played and magnificently recorded.

The Time of the End, which takes its cue from the Book of Daniel, is made up of music and tableaux from the first and second versions of Langgaard’s opera, Antikrist. Far from being just a random collection of off-cuts, this work has a strong narrative and sense of momentum—those timps a familiar dynamo—not to mention a real sense of drama. I’ve yet to hear Antikrist—Dacapo 6.220549—but on the strength of this distillation I will certainly add it to my wish-list.

Baritone Johan Reuter makes a characterful Bishop Sàl, who joins the anxious chorus in seeking guidance from the false prophet Antichrist, sung by Peter Lodahl. There’s a lyricism to both the music and the vocal parts, together with an underlying harmonic richness that we don’t hear in Music of the Spheres. The choral singing is splendid, the people’s fear made most palpable under the blood-dimm’d skies of ‘Towards the end of the world’. But the young Christian woman—sung by Hetna Regitze Bruun, who also takes the part of ‘the Scarlet Woman’—is not seduced by his false promises, the impending apocalypse of ‘Catastrophe’ realised with a simple driving rhythm and tormented gongs. The choral sound is always impressive, even under pressure, and the balance between orchestra and voices is most believable. As for that broad, brass-driven chorale near the end, it sounds simply glorious—even on the disc’s fine CD layer—the work ending with a return to that ur-pulse from the Prelude.

Continuing this spirit of musical and dramatic compactness comes the Requiem-based choral piece Fra dybet (From the Abyss). Langgaard takes sentences from the ‘Lux aeterna’ and ‘Dies irae’ and weaves them into a work of real originality and power. And yes, there is a liturgical feel to this music, but in the theatrical, Berliozian sense rather than the conventional, pious one; there’s also a very discreet organ part, but the soloists and chorus are transported, inspired. No fuss, no histrionics, this really is music from the heart, a splendid finale to a fabulous disc.

This Dacapo release has impressed me in so many ways, not least for its commitment to music that’s hardly mainstream, but which deserves to be more widely heard. As always, such projects require the strongest advocacy, and that’s just what Thomas Dausgaard provides, both here and in the other Langgaard works he’s recorded for Dacapo. Throw in very readable liner-notes, full texts and translations and top-notch sonics and you have a real cracker. Absolutely not to be missed.



John Miller
SA-CD.net, February 2011

Performance:
Sonics:

Rued Langgaard, Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, Havergal Brian, George Lloyd and Allan Pettersson were musical mavericks of the C20th. They were all more or less rejected by the artistic Establishments of their respective countries, condemned to lifetimes of struggle for recognition and vindication. Despite this, Langgaard in particular was a surprisingly prolific composer, with over 400 works to his credit. Many of these forgotten pieces are now coming to light for the first time in a marvellous ongoing recording project from Dacapo, the orchestral works being spearheaded by the indefatigable Dausgaard with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.

‘Music of the Spheres’ was composed between 1916 and 1918 (just after Holst completed ‘The Planets’). Langgard’s countrymen were uninterested, and it had to be performed in Germany—in 1921 and 1922. For its time, ‘Music of the Spheres’ was startlingly innovative—far more so than Holst’s ‘Planets’, a fact suddenly realised by Ligeti in 1968. He and Nørgård sat on a jury judging a large number of new scores by Scandinavian composers. Unknown to the others, Nørgård had inserted ‘Music of the Spheres’. Ligeti became engrossed in this score, finally exclaiming “Gentlemen, I have just discovered that I am a Langgaard follower!”. Ligeti had belatedly realised that some of the technical aspects of this composition—the use of clusters, layers, etc.—appeared in some of his own works from the 1960’s, especially Atmospheres (1961), which at the time was considered highly innovative.

What Langgaard (in his early 20s) was attempting with ‘Music of the Spheres’ was an experimental vision, setting aside the usual currency of musical language such as motives, development, form and structure. Replacing them were aspects such as space, timbre, orchestral and vocal colour, with height and depth represented in layering. The work was motivated by his preoccupation at the time with his religious belief in the spiritual power of music and its importance for mankind. He was a fervent admirer of the Art Nouveau movement, particularly the Symbolist poets. All these influences appear in ‘Music of the Spheres’, in its 15 sections, each of which is given an epigraphical title.

The work is scored for a large orchestra with triple woodwind and brass, 8 horns, bells, tam-tam, 8 timpani (in four parts), organ and a piano with the lid removed so that the pianist can play glissandi directly on the strings. A smaller “orchestra at a distance” has a complement of flutes, oboes, clarinets and a horn, harp, 1 timp and strings in a 3,2,1,1 configuration. There is also a large mixed-voice chorus and a soprano soloist. These resources are used frugally; the organ sounds for only a few bars, and the full orchestral complement only for the final chord. The timpani, however, play a key part all through the work, from swelling 4-part rolls to fusillades rolling from drum to drum.

Dausgaard’s characteristic attention to orchestral balancing displays Langgaard’s deft and innovative scoring wonderfully in this live concert recording. He also keeps up a steady forward thrust, even through some almost static intervals, gripping the listener’s attention even in the softest playing. Each of the various episodes brings new surprises; Langgaard constantly draws one’s breath with ravishing or startlingly innovative textures. There are some purely melodic strains, especially for flutes playing with Ravellian sensuality, and later a solo violin singing with Straussian opulence. Towards the end Chaos appears with the arrival of Antichrist, one of Langgaard’s symbols in his description of the eternal and cosmic battle between Good and Evil. The arc of the piece thus culminates seemingly inevitably in a final long-held, swelling 9-note chord at full force from the whole ensemble, with a tornado of tympani, bells, cymbals and blazing brass which achieves a tremendous cathartic release.

The audience make some discreet noises in the first few moments, as they clearly did not expect such a hushed beginning, where many-divided strings build a shimmering cluster from top down, but for the rest of the piece they are remarkably quiet. Dacapo thankfully do not include any applause; it is sufficient to let the music of the spheres to return to the silence from which they emerged. The house recording style, of natural perspectives in the airy modern Koncerthuset in Copenhagen, suites the disposition of the forces, with Langgaard’s “orchestra at a distance” sounding ethereally behind (and above) the main orchestra and chorus—this effect is best heard, of course, in multichannel.

Rozhdestvensky conducted the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra in a fine version of ‘Music of the Spheres’ for Chandos, but his make-weight was Langgard’s Four Tone Pictures, on a very different emotional and stylistic level to ‘Music of the Spheres’. Dausgard gives us a much more generous and appropriate selection which adds considerably to the impact of this disc: first, ‘Endens Tid’ (End-Time) for mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone and orchestra. The title originates in the Book of Daniel, with its visions of the end of the world. It consists of music from the first version of Langgaard’s opera ‘AntiChrist’ (1921–1923), which was removed from the final version. In 1930 Langgaard produced a concert work as a Suite, consisting of the Prelude to the Opera and three scenes which provide a compact summary of the whole opera plot. The style here is more neo-Romantic, but still with Langgaard’s innovatory orchestral textures, such a thrilling high-trotting ostinato on the strings which reappears several times.

Mezzo-soprano Hetna Regitze Bruun expertly manages the dual roles of a Young Christian Woman and The Scarlet Woman; Tenor Peter Lodahl brings deep commitment and a ringing voice to AntiChrist himself, while baritone Johan Reuter effects a sternly dark-voiced authority to Bishop Sàl’s part. Ragnarok (the Scandinavian vision of the end of the world) is effectively portrayed in post-Wagnerian terms by choir and Orchestra. This is a splendid introduction for ‘AntiChrist’ and will surely attract listeners to the opera itself, which was not staged in its final version until 1999. It is available on SACD (Rued Langgaard: Antikrist—Dausgaard) and Blu-Ray.

‘Fra Dybet’ (From the Abyss) dates from 1950–52 and is his last dated composition. In some ways, it is his own Requiem, a glowingly ample setting of short sentences from the Requiem Mass, specifically the Dies Irae and Lux aeterna. The final text, “To me also hope Thou gavest” represents Langgaard’s final religious affirmation. The chorus here is superbly disciplined, and the C19th oratorio style of polyphony brings a majesty and warmth which is deeply moving. The recording of ‘Endens Tid’ and ‘Fra Dybet’ took place in the same venue, but without audience. Their perspective is a little closer, with a wider stage, and is sharply focussed and vivid.

It is hard to imagine better performances of these three works, and the programme amounts to much more than the sum of its parts in revealing the essence of Langgaard’s art. The disc is very well-documented in the notes and recorded with convincing realism. Listeners who have been following Dacapo’s traversal of all the Langgaard symphonies will find this an irresistible purchase. Simply a magnificent achievement.



Grant Chu Covell
La Folia, February 2011

This wonderfully strange music from everyone’s favorite Danish loner covers apocalyptic themes. Surprisingly sparse, The Music of the Spheres uses timpani barrages and gently spun tonal melodies to cast spells. Langgaard’s structures are wholly untraditional. Spinning motives foreshadow minimalism. There are few orchestral tuttis across the 15 sections. Massed violins, momentary organ, or a solo voice carry us through movements such as “Longing, Despair, Ecstasy,” “Chaos, Ruin, Far and Away,” and “Flowers wither.” One great climax results in an imponderably long-held chord followed by harp washes. One imagines veils continually lifting.

Spin-offs from Langgaard’s opera Antichrist appear in the four-movement The Time of the End wherein Wagnerian opulence blends with tonality. From the Abyss is the most anachronistic item here. Perhaps Langgaard’s shifting tonality and somber organ would have played well in Hollywood. The chorus tunes reflect a love for Bach; their orchestral accompaniments could pass for Schumann or Brahms.



Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, January 2011

We are in the midst of a full-blown reexamination of the music of eccentric Danish composer Rued Langgaard. Fueled, in part, by an interest in revisiting neglected music for inclusion in a broader canon—finding masterpieces that were originally savaged by critics is a popular form of critical gotcha—this revival has been achieved largely through the advocacy of the Langgaard Foundation and Danish musicologist Bendt Viinholt Nielsen and the recordings of three enterprising labels: Danacord, Chandos, and most recently, Dacapo. Those who know of Langgaard’s sad story, with his dysfunctional personal life, his almost messianic sense of mission, his self-destructive anger at the neglect he suffered as a musician, his wildly impolitic attacks on the Danish musical establishment, and his decidedly non-mainstream religious beliefs, will likely doubt his sanity. (Nielsen’s extensive Langgaard Web site, langgaard.dk, is a near-inexhaustible resource for exploring this thought, and the online notes to the Dacapo recording of The Antichrist, dacapo-records.dk/recording-antikrist_1.aspx, are also most illuminating.) But critical opinion regarding his music has swung away from earlier dismissal toward rather enthusiastic acceptance. What had been seen as significant technical faults in his works are now reframed as winning qualities: primitive, impulsive, naive, indifferent to conventional ideas of form, volatile, ecstatic outsider, visionary genius.

Genius? There was undeniably talent. The early nature-inspired symphonies are unruly but promising, and met with some success in Germany, and to a lesser extent in Denmark. A few years later, Music of the Spheres (Sfærernes Musik), written between 1916 and 1918 and published in 1919, was well received when first performed in 1921 in Karlsruhe. This was the most promising period in Langgaard’s life, which also saw the composition of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth symphonies—arguably his best work in that genre—several string quartets, as well as songs and choral music. During this period he often broke new ground, creating music that anticipated techniques later developed independently by such disparate composers as Hindemith, Ligeti, and the American minimalists. He was a skilled orchestrator, capable of creating sonic canvasses of remarkable beauty and grandeur. But he was an undisciplined talent, too little concerned with issues of structure and proportion, and uncritical in his thematic choices. Brilliance is too often undone by banality, inspiration is too often spoiled by pointless repetition or abrupt dismissal, and innovation too often gives way to pastiche.

It was this lack of judgment and discipline that frequently led to contemporary criticism. Here is a 1919 review by Langgard’s critical nemesis Gustav Hetsch, offered on Nielsen’s Web site as an example of the tone of the criticism he received: “In general the work.. as is usually the case with Langgaard, is wrongly conceived. It has an exceedingly pretentious form, which the musical content cannot fill out; a pathological urge to fix on and continually repeat a phrase without any obvious artistic necessity and with a puffed-up prolixity that quickly tires any listener who is of normal intelligence and reasonably quick on the uptake. For the umpteenth time we have to regret that what was originally a very promising musical talent was not caught in time, put through the discipline of rational training, and taught how to economize on notation.” It may not have been kind, but in truth, quite aside from any after-the-fact efforts to impose order on the philosophy behind his oeuvre, it seems a reasonable assessment of much of the autodidact composer’s music. Contemporary critics are not always wrong.

Yet, in some of his compositions, the inspiration transcends—and occasionally draws some power from—the hubris, mental instability, and uncertainty of technical discipline. Music of the Spheres is certainly one of these. It is a study in musical texture, space, and time, without traditional forms or linear narrative. Yet, episodic and sprawling as it is, it creates moments of great drama, and stretches of delicate expectancy, and there is an expressive, if not a structural, growth toward the confrontation of the final movement. Despite the title, the work does not deal with the Pythagorean concept of the perfect movement of the celestial bodies, but rather with the composer’s central preoccupation: a vision of the defiance of a society doomed to expire of its decadence, and the promise of a loosely Christian salvation through art, music, and purity. As it is, one does not have to deal with the schema itself, outlined in the titles of the sections, for the impact of the work requires no reference to it. There are visions of infinity, as a distant chamber orchestra contrasts with the main orchestra, organ and chorus, or as string tremolos and wind arpeggios weave a proto-minimalist space music. There are sections of aching beauty as when the distant ensemble supports the soprano’s ecstatic Straussian hymn to art and the soul, and dark, powerful interjections of the multiple timpani around which the visions of light are ordered. The final of the 15 sections portrays the destruction of the Antichrist in the incandescent flash of a massively sustained choral chord and a shock wave of brass and thundering timpani, followed by a transcendent coda of tranquility and peace: celestial music incorporating the chromatic strumming of the strings of an open piano and the hushed wordless vocalizing of the chorus. It is a startlingly modern work—as Ligeti noted when he saw the score in 1968, it looks forward to the innovations of such works as Atmospheres—that leaves one saddened that madness and rage at the world ended up taking him in different, less satisfying, directions.

In my review of the 16 symphonies (Fanfare 33:1), I complained of Thomas Dausgaard’s steady, generally swifter, tempos and literal approach to those works, in contrast to others whose interpretive freedom minimizes some of their more vexing and clumsy aspects. That is not an issue here. I do not use the word revelatory lightly—in fact I have only used it once before in two and one-half years of reviewing for Fanfare—but it is clearly justified in this case. The two previous recordings, by Frandsen on Danacord and particularly by Rozhdestvensky on Chandos, are fine representations of the work, but this new recording is something extraordinary. What may have seemed odd or disproportioned in the earlier recordings now flows and develops quite convincingly. Dausgaard deploys tempo, phrasing, and the all-important silences perfectly, adding four and one-half minutes to the timing of the earlier recordings, and thereby creating more grandeur, and more space to build a feeling of eternity. This is also technically the best performance on disc. Where the Danish orchestra in its 1977 incarnation struggled a bit with the work under Frandsen, it is now more than equal to the challenges presented, and the chorus is remarkable, even under pressure, as it often is both in terms of dynamics and endurance. Lyric soprano Inger Dam Jensen, known for her work in Mozart opera and Strauss Lieder, brings purity of tone, warmth of expression, and a Lieder singer’s pointing of text to her pivotal solo.

Music of the Spheres represents the end of that hopeful period of Langgaard’s career. Though the other two pieces on the disc are thematically well matched to the earlier composition, also being apocalyptic works, they bear the scars of Langgaard’s subsequent travails. The dramatic scena The End of Time (Endens Tid) uses the Prelude from his obscure symbolist opera The Antichrist and rescues some of the music that he cut from the opera when revising it for a final version that was not to be produced in his lifetime. It presents Langgaard’s iconic Lucifer-like character, as always an allegory for decadent post-World War I society, as his deceitful triumph fails and he is brought down at the second coming of Christ. The Chandos recording of this work conducted by Rozhdestvensky is one of the finest recordings of any work by Langgaard, and this new recording of The End of Time does not displace it. Dausgaard balances and shapes the Prelude sensitively, but Rozhdestvensky, working with essentially the same forces, drives the drama itself more convincingly—especially when the magnificent double chorus announces the end of the Antichrist’s reign—and the orchestra, especially the brass, is clearly inspired. But the most telling difference is in the tenor Antichrist: Rozhdestvensky has a Siegfried in Stig Andersen and Dausgaard has a Belmonte. As well as Peter Lodahl sings, he is two sizes too small, and the rest of the performance has to be scaled to his vocal weight. Mezzo Hetna Regitze Bruun is similarly light-voiced compared to her Chandos counterpart, with only baritone Johan Reuter suited to his role, though not preferable to Rozhdestvensky’s Heldenbaritone, Per Høyer.

The final work on the disc, and the last major work Langgaard completed, is From the Abyss (Fra Dybet). Though other works from this period, like his 16th Symphony, show a mellowing, even a resignation, there is none of that in the martial opening of this piece. However, the leave-taking is clear as the rage gives way to a noble setting of the first two lines of the Requiem aeternam followed by a line from the Dies irae, “Has given me hope as well.” This is the second recording with the same orchestra and chorus, the first again on Chandos with Segerstam conducting. Here the preference is reversed, with Dausgaard most effectively presenting both the war music of the beginning and the almost Brahmsian setting of the liturgical texts; the music Langgaard’s mother would have had him write, here at the end. Segerstam’s performance, with its deliberate tempo and its teasing-out of certain orchestral lines, seems determined to make even the more conventional music sound odder than it is.

The sound captured by Dacapo’s engineers is less immediate than that of the Chandos releases, but this is to the advantage of the new performance of Music of the Spheres, which is aided by Dacapo’s slight distancing. The SACD layers are helpful in sorting out textures and space. If you are at all interested in very late Romantic (think Scriabin) or in Danish music, in musical mysticism, or in Langgaard specifically, by all means acquire this disc. These three apocalyptic works are as close to masterpieces as he created, and even the weaker performance gives a reasonable sense of the work. Add the Rozhdestvensky disc with The End of Time and the previous symphony recommendations, and you will have a fine collection of Langgaard’s best larger-scale works. Works of genius, or manifestations of madness—or both—these at the least are compelling listening.



Roger Hecht
American Record Guide, January 2011

‘Blumen Welken’ is spring-like, with strings and bubbling woodwinds…‘Blick Durch Traenen auf die Sonne’…create a combination of Ives and ‘Saturn’ from Holst’s Planets. The Time of the End…sounds like the world being swept over by powerful flood waters, though the ending itself is quiet and resigned. From the Abyss…is rich, full, and Heaven-reaching. The sound is excellent, as are the notes.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.



Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, December 2010

TC first encountered the Danish composer Rued Langgaard by reviewing a dvd of his opera “Antikrist,” which was marvelously gritty (Issue 176, Da Capo). In Issue 212, for the same label, a review appeared of a box containing his sixteen symphonies and several shorter works. These pieces had their moments, some very imaginative, some beautiful, but much that seemed filler, in a bland sort of tonal writing. His violin concerto, a 9-minute piece, was very original (Issue 218, Da Capo). All these pieces were conducted by Thomas Dausgaard with the Danish National Orchestra and Chorus. Now he leads Langgaard’s Music of the Spheres, The Time of the End and From the Abyss (hybrid SACD 6.220535). Music of the Spheres was written between 1916 and 1918; it lasts 40 minutes. It is in 15 movements, involving a soprano soloist (Inger Dam Jensen is fine) and a choir. It is as shocking for its time as Stravinsky’s “Sacre du Printemps,” but it doesn’t sound at all like Stravinsky’s masterpiece. Each movement consists of repeated fragments of motives; most of them are very soft, but include loud timpani over the softness. This accounts for its modernity. Ligeti remarked that Langgaard used the same effects that he did, in Music of the Spheres. The soloist and chorus are in the last movement only; those before it are instrumental. The choral writing at the end is very reminiscent of Holst’s “Planets,” Planets,” and the piece ends with a weird chord that gains in volume and then sinks to oblivion. The End of Time, for mezzo, tenor, baritone and chorus with orchestra, is basically a suite taken from his opera Antikrist. It is a stunning piece, containing the prelude to the opera and three arias. Hetna Regitze Bruun, Peter Lodahl and Johan Reuter are the excellent soloists. From the Abyss for chorus and orchestra was the last piece Langgaard wrote. It begins with funereal music but later broadens out into the rather predictable music he wrote later in life. The soloists, from the choir, are decent, as is the performance, but it is the least fetching piece on the disc. Dausgaard does the composer proud in these performances. Excellent sound.



Bill
The WSCL Blog, November 2010

Danish composer Rued Langgaard’s music has lain dormant for some time now, and is ripe for rediscovery. His “Music of the Spheres” for Orchestra, soprano and chorus was composed in 1916 when the composer was 26 years old, in thrall of the music of Scriabin, and already a budding visionary. His open, free, and sometimes static music calls to mind later sonic landscapes by Olivier Messiaen and Gyorgy Ligeti. Contains two other works for chorus and orchestra—“The Time of the End” and “From the Abyss.”



Guy Rickards
Gramophone, November 2010

Gramophone Recommends

Marvellously recorded accounts of some of Langgaard’s finest scores

Rued Langgaard may have been one of music’s great nutcases, his output bewilderingly variable, but he was capable of writing great music. The Music of the Spheres (1916–18) is a case in point, an extraordinary tapestry for a large albeit sparingly used orchestra (with distant small ensemble accompanying a solo soprano) and choir. The work eschews traditional musical development and form for the most part in its 15 continuously played sections, proceeding more as a series of interlinked studies in sonority, shimmering textures and long drawn-out chords blending with apocalyptic visions, in a heady cocktail of Symbolist allusion and athematicism. Dausgaard’s interpretation, brought vividly to this year’s Proms to much acclaim, accentuates the textural subtleties of the score in a vibrant recording that achieves amazing quietude (when the timpani are not on the rampage). Frandsen—on a treasured Danacord twofer with Symphonies Nos 4, 6, 10 and 14—and Rozhdestvensky found more overt drama in the music, but Dausgaard, running five minutes longer than either, has the edge in orchestral refinement, caught to perfection by Dacapo.

The Time of the End is, essentially, the suite from Langgaard’s opera Antikrist, preserving—the Prelude aside—music from the 1921–23 original (discarded from the final version of 1930), though it only reached its final form in 1943. Dausgaard’s interpretation is of a muchness with Rozhdestvensky’s, coupled with From the Song of Solomon and Interdict. From the Abyss (1950–52) was Langgaard’s final completed piece, inspired by lines from the Requiem Mass. It is tempting to see it as a final valedictory memorial but is best heard as a fine if diffuse choral-and-orchestral tome-poem. It rounds out this superbly played and recorded disc splendidly. Highly recommended.



Robert Benson
ClassicalCDReview.com, November 2010

This site has mentioned most of Da Capo’s important series of music of Danish composer Rued Langgaard (Symphony No. 1 (REVIEW), Symphonies 2 and 3 (REVIEW), Symphonies 12, 13 and 14 (REVIEW), Symphonies 15 and 16, other works (REVIEW). All of these are of enormous interest for collectors, and now we have a major addition to the catalog featuring Music of the Spheres. This astounding work was composed 1916–1918, scored for a huge orchestra with eight horns, organ, four sets of timpani and soprano, large chorus and extra “distant orchestra.” But these forces are used sparingly except for the apocalyptic Antichrist-Christ section when all is unleashed to stunning effect. At the premiere in 1921, Langgaard provided a subtitle, “A life-and-death fantasia.” When György Ligeti saw the score in the late ’60’s, he commented, “I didn’t know I was a Laggaard imitator!” This magnificent work, a milestone in 20th century choral literature, was given in Stockholm in 1968, and the first complete performance in Denmark took place in 1980. There are two previous recordings, all with Danish forces, on DaCapo with John Frandsen conducting, and on Chandos with Gennadi Rozhdestvensky on the podium; I have not heard either of these. This third recording is stunning in every way, although engineers have made little use of the four channels available. The Time of the End is a 24-minute suite of music the composer removed from his revised version of his opera Antikrist. From the Abyss, for chorus and orchestra, a setting of lines from the Requiem liturgy, was Langgaard’s final work. All performances are superb, and complete texts are provided in Danish, English and German. Don’t miss this exciting issue!



Stephen Habington
La Scena Musicale, November 2010

Rued Langgaard (1893–1952) was the designated pariah of the 20th century Danish musical establishment. Dacapo is making handsome amends for decades of neglect of his enormous output (more than 400 opus numbers). In 2008, the label released a seven-SACD box of Langgaard’s 16 symphonies (plus an alternative version of No. 5). It is odd to reflect that the three works offered here could each fit within the composer’s very elastic conception of the symphony. Even From the Abyss at 7:33 would not be disqualified. But choral works they are and very fine, indeed. The Music of the Spheres is Langgaard’s most important and certainly most original single composition. When 1960s ultra-mod composer György Ligeti perused the score he remarked, “I didn’t know I was a Langgaard imitator.” The piece requires a large orchestra with eight horns, organ, piano, four sets of timpani and 15 off-stage musicians with soprano soloist and a large chorus. Gennady Rozhdesvensky’s account with this very same orchestra for Chandos has served us well since 1997 but Dausgaard’s must be considered definitive. Five minutes longer, the Dausgaard performance is better articulated and this magnifies the violent contrasts of the music. The Time of the End (24:13) consists of music discarded from the composer’s original 1923 score for his revolutionary opera, Antichrist.



Gapplegate Music Review, October 2010

Danish composer Rued Langgaard (1893–1952) never received his due during his lifetime. He lived in the shadow of his more famous compatriot Carl Nielsen. His native Denmark afforded him few performance opportunities and, so it seems, he was faced with hostility and incomprehension.

Ironically part of the contemporary audience incomprehension was because he was simultaneously somewhat conventional at one moment (romantic) and presciently ahead of his time, surely with the Music of the Spheres work for large orchestra and chorus.

A recent recording by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choirs under Thomas Dausgaard (Da Capo 6.220535) brings together all the stylistic elements of this Langgaard masterpiece for our wonder and appreciation. This is music with a mystical vision at work. The massed forces of full orchestra, choir, soprano solo and a smaller orchestra playing at a distance make for some deeply varied tone colors and gargantuan potency, the latter of which is only fully unleashed 30 minutes into the work.

What is most startling about the piece is not the post-Mahler reveries and Straussian thickness of texture of the tutti orchestra (though it all makes for an exciting piece of music). It is rather when Langgaard seeks to express the more cosmic programmatic elements of the music. There are soundscape-like ambiances, proto-minimalistic repetitions, and bold strokes of musical impasto.

A full analysis would be beyond the scope of this review article. It is a one-of-a-kind work; Langaard did some later interesting, and apparently, not as interesting work after his Music of the Spheres failed to capture the Danish imagination. But he never approached this level of invention.

The performances are excellent, sound is good, and several bonus works are added to the the program to round out our perspective on the composer's overall style shifts. If you've never heard this work the CD at hand gives you the perfect opportunity to unveil its abundance to your listening cycle for many years to come.




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, September 2010

This disc is a must for collectors of 20th-century choral music, late-Romantic “monsterpieces”, and apocalyptic memorabilia of the World War I era. Rued Langgaard’s Music of the Spheres, for solo soprano, chorus, and two orchestras (including organ, piano played on the strings, eight horns, four timpanists, and other enticing goodies), is a totally original conception that not only prefigures much later music (as Ligeti observed on seeing the score), but does so in a wholly captivating and aurally riveting way. Although consisting of a mostly static series of “sound fields”, the constantly changing textures and spatial effects, including a mysteriously evocative song (excellently performed by Inger Dam Jensen), effortlessly sustain the listener’s interest throughout the work’s 40 minutes. It may be too weird to be a repertory item, but it surely deserves to be.

The Time of the End consists of the slightly rearranged extracts from Langgaard’s opera Antikrist that did not survive his 1930 revision of the complete opera. Like that work, the music combines a Straussian seductiveness of scoring with a phantasmagoric sensibility that is entirely Langgaard’s own. The story, in case you forgot, has something to do with the Antikrist taking over the universe along with his buddy, The Great Whore, but not in time for the apocalypse and eventual triumph of the real Christ—or something like that. It really doesn’t matter: the music is terrific and wholly gripping, even if the text is nonsense as often as not.

From the Abyss, a setting of a few lines of the Requiem liturgy, was Langgaard’s last completed work, a moving testament to his enduring religious faith after a lifetime of relative misery and near total neglect. It is absolutely wonderful to have this music available on disc at last, stunningly recorded and beautifully performed by the various soloists, choir, and orchestra under thomas Dausgaard. A truly awesome event.



Bob McQuiston
National Public Radio, September 2010

In classical music, it would be hard to find a greater individualist than Danish composer Rued Langgaard. Unlike his anti-romantic contemporaries bent on writing “new” music, Langgaard remained rooted in tonality.

But the music on this new disc (from dacapo records) shows how Langgaard pushed the late-romantic envelope, expanding on the impressionistic symbolism of composers like Alexander Scriabin, and expressionism of Franz Schreker.

The three choral-symphonic works on the album span Langgaard’s career, from 1916 through 1952. The 24-minute The Time of the End is a four-part, cantata-like compaction of his opera Antikrist and the seven-minute From the Abyss is a mini-requiem set to phrases from the Latin mass.

Oddly enough, the earliest music on the album, The Music of the Spheres (completed in 1918) is the most progressive, and an idiosyncratic Scandinavian masterpiece. Langgaard calls for a huge chorus and orchestra, plus a “distant” soprano and a fifteen-member instrumental ensemble. Conductor Thomas Dausgaard, who deftly commands the many forces here, brought the giant piece to the BBC Proms concerts for its British premiere.

Each of its 15 sections bears one of those quizzical captions Langgaard so loved (“Starlight on a Blue-tinged Sky at Dusk”), and he referred to the whole piece as “A life-and-death fantasia.” But really, it’s more of a musical stream of consciousness where recurring subatomic motifs and sound patterns are the only hints of any underlying plan.

The first seven sections could be described as galactic mood music, with shimmering strings, exotic organ stops and pounding timpani. No full-fledged thematic ideas here, just a fascinating swirl of melodic nebulosities that pan in and out of audibility. But things get “curiouser and curiouser” in the eighth section when a female soloist with chorus pipes up with a resounding “do-re-mi-fa-sol-la.”

Later, the “distant” soprano appears with a tearful song, but it’s just the calm before Langgaard’s apocalyptic conclusion, titled “The End: Antichrist – Christ.” It reflects his preoccupation with false prophets and the end of the world, perhaps brought on by the horrors of World War I.

The composer pulls out all of the stops here, beginning with a monumental crescendo containing what must be the longest choral pedal point and sustained timpani roll in all classical literature.

The singers then vanish as if swallowed up by some passing black hole, which suddenly flares into an orchestral supernova of sound. It quickly burns to a cold, dissonant cinder, ending this extraordinary journey much as it began in the vast emptiness of space. If there was ever any music suitable for a planetarium, this is it!



Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, September 2010

In the classical musical world, it would be hard to find a better example of an individualist than Danish composer Rued Langgaard (1893–1952), who followed a yellow brick road entirely of his own making. Unlike the majority of his contemporaries, who were anti-romantics bent on writing “new” music, much of which in retrospect was listener-hostile, he remained tonally based. But in the process he stretched the late-romantic envelope even further, expanding on the impressionistic symbolism of Scriabin (1872–1925), and expressionism found in such composers as Franz Schreker (1878–1934).

Spanning his professional career from 1916 through 1952, the three choral-symphonic works on this new hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), release are good examples of this. And the earliest one, The Music of the Spheres (1916–18), remains an idiosyncratic Scandinavian masterpiece! It calls for a huge chorus with an orchestra that includes piano, organ and eight timpani, as well as a “distant” soprano accompanied by a fifteen-member instrumental ensemble.

It’s a pioneering colorist creation that’s in fifteen parts, each lasting about one to seven minutes. Rued gave them those quizzical captions he so loved, calling the whole enchilada “A Life-and-Death Fantasia.”

Devoid of any formal structure, it’s probably best described as a musical stream of consciousness. But there is a sense of underlying coherency thanks to his use of recurring subatomic motifs and sound patterns with frequent tympanic reinforcement. Incidentally the latter will remind you of the Inextinguishable Symphony (No. 4, 1914–16) written two years earlier by Langgaard’s nemesis Carl Nielsen (1865–1931).

The first seven sections [tracks-1 through 7] are orchestral galactic mood music made all the more cosmic by shimmering strings, exotic organ stops and pounding timpani. With no full-fledged thematic ideas, there are only swirling melodic nebulosities that pan in and out of audibility. But things get curioser and curioser“ in the eighth [track-8] subtitled “Ich will!” Here a female soloist soon joined by a chorus sings “Do re mi fa sol la,” whatever that’s supposed to mean!

The next four sections [tracks-9 through 12] are again just for orchestra, and similar to the opening ones. That “distant” soprano then appears (on the rear channels in SACD multichannel mode) in the thirteenth and fourteenth [tracks-13 and 14] with a sentimental lachrymose song (see the album notes).

This is the quiet before the apocalyptic conclusion [track-15] bearing the sinister title “Das Ende: Antichrist—Christ.” It reflects the composer’s preoccupation with false prophets and the end of the world, which may have been brought on by the horrors of World War I (1914–18). Incidentally, he would revisit these subjects in his The Heaven-Rending Symphony (No. 6, 1919–20, revised 1928–30) as well as the opera Antikrist (1921–23, reworked 1926–30).

The composer pulls out all of the stops here, beginning with a monumental crescendo containing what would probably qualify in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest choral pedal point and sustained timpani roll in all classical literature! After a brief silence, mystical glissandi played by the harp and literally on the strings of the piano introduce and illuminate a vocalizing beatific chorus somewhat reminiscent of “Neptune” from Gustav Holst’s (1874–1934) The Planets (1916).

The singers then vanish as if swallowed up by some passing black hole, which suddenly transforms into an orchestral sonic supernova. It quickly burns to a cold dissonant chordal cinder, ending this extraordinary journey much as it began in the vast emptiness of space. If there was ever any music suitable for a planetarium, this is it!

Mention has already been made above of Langgaard’s opera Antikrist, and the next selection is a twenty-four-minute compaction of the original version. Done between 1939 and 1943, this cantata-like piece is titled The Time of the End, which is a quote from the Book of Daniel (chapter 8, verse 17). In four parts drawn sequentially from the prelude and three of the opera’s tableaux, it calls for mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus and orchestra.

The contemplative prelude is striking for a profound chorale-like idea (PC) [track-16, beginning at 00:15] followed by a rhythmically catchy recurring motif (RC) [track-16, beginning at 00:59] that propels the music forward. A little over halfway through, PC erupts into a powerful timpani-accented brass pronouncement guaranteed to make a believer out the most confirmed atheist.

The following three sections have arias by some of the opera’s main protagonists interspersed with choruses (see the album notes for the complete Danish text with English and German translations). The last of these entitled “The Catastrophe” finds the composer at his most cataclysmic, where he even trumps the finale for …Spheres. In the final measures there are recollections of PC along with RC as the clouds of “The Last Judgment” dissipate, bringing the work to a peaceful close.

The disc ends appropriately with Langgaard’s last known opus, From the Abyss. Originally composed in 1950, and revised as late as the year he died (1952), it’s a seven-minute mini-requiem for chorus, organ and orchestra set to phrases from that Latin mass. It begins with a quirky brass and timpani-spiked orchestral march which gives way to a subdued episode for organ with some woofer-pumping pedal points. The chorus then enters hushfully singing “Requiem aeternam,” and the music soon builds to a towering climax. This slowly diminishes as the piece ends with the chorus intoning a benediction of eternal light and hope.

As on their previous Langgaard releases for Dacapo conductor Thomas Dausgaard and the Danish National Choir, Vocal Ensemble, and Symphony Orchestra give magnificent performances along with the many soloists featured here. They handle the more subdued moments with great finesse and sensitivity, but work themselves up into an absolute frenzy during the histrionic ones.

These interpretations are at least the equal, and for the most part surpass what little competition is out there. Incidentally, after a wait of ninety-two years, it was Dausgaard who just last month gave the British première of …Spheres at the BBC Proms concerts.

Massive choral as well as orchestral forces, including organ and piano, along with a variety of soloists must have made this a formidable recording challenge. But as with their other discs in this series, the Danish audio engineers have triumphed! Also the producers get special credit for The Music of the Spheres. Unlike the other two selections, it was a live recording which thanks to some adroit touch-ups and editing has only a couple of barely noticeable tussive spots, and no applause.

The soundstage presented by the CD and SACD stereo tracks is appropriately extensive, and housed in the excellent acoustic of the Danish National Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen. The overall orchestral timbre and voice quality on both is for the most part natural with maybe a tad more high-end twinkle in the CD mode. The SACD multitrack version will put you right in the center of Langgaard’s bizarre musical universe.

The balance between voice and orchestra in all three play modes is generally quite good. The only minor sonic beef would be with The Time of the End, where the soloists sound like they’re at the end of a long reverberant tunnel, and would have benefitted from closer miking.

The frequency and dynamic ranges are considerable due to the large number of performers plus the predominance of percussion. Audiophiles will find this disc a demanding test of a sound system’s imaging capabilities.






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