, July 2001
"Judging by its title (Orchestral Works Vol. 1) there will be more works by this composer issued, presumable dependant upon how this current issue sells in the marketplace. I sincerely hope that there are more as I have enjoyed this disc immensely.
Herman D. (David) Koppel (1908 - 1998) was a very well known musical personality in Denmark. He was a hardworking composer, pianist, teacher and "patriarch of a musical dynasty that has become a Danish counterpart of the Bach family in Germany" - the words of the sleeve note, not mine.
Koppel's family originally lived in Poland, moving to Denmark in 1907. At the occupation of Denmark in 1943, Koppel, his wife and two young children moved to neutral Sweden to remove themselves from the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. Returning after the war his musical output changed somewhat, with an emphasis on vocal and choral works, many of which were settings of Old Testament texts.
What we have on this disc is Koppel's last two symphonies and the even later Concerto for Orchestra. Koppel was the last modern Danish composer who was greatly influenced by Carl Nielsen, and in his younger days he used to play Nielsen's piano works for the composer. Nielsen would look over the young composer's early works and give him help. The orchestration and overall sound of these symphonies are somewhat similar to those of the earlier master, but I would in no way compare them to Nielsen's output.
Koppel's seven symphonies were written between 1930 to 1961, these last two having completion dates of 1957 and 1961. The Concerto for Orchestra is much later, having been completed in 1978.
Symphony No. 6 is written in the unusual format of 5 movements, the first of which lasts almost as long as all the remainder put together. The writing is primarily tonal as was prevalent in Denmark at the time, and none the worse for this. Certain themes, particularly as heard in the second movement could almost have been written by Nielsen, but their treatment is quite different. I found influences of Bartok, Shostakovich and Nielsen all swirling around, and this is not in any way distracting. What distinguishes this work from those of the other composers mentioned is that it does not have a clear individual voice, but this may develop for me with further hearing of other works of this composer.
The 7th Symphony was commissioned by the Royal Danish Orchestra and was conducted by Leopold Ludwig. It is in three movements, and this time all are about the same duration. It starts with a slow first movement, followed by a Scherzo, and completed by an Allegro con brio. This symphony shows the composer to be at the height of his powers, although the much later Concerto for Orchestra is just as fine. Again, though, not a clear individual voice, but a conglomeration of other composers. Nevertheless these two symphonies are well worth hearing and have been most enjoyable.
The Concerto for Orchestra is a very fine work. Written for the Aarhus Orchestra on the occasion of the composer's 70th birthday this concerto is somewhat like a concerto grosso, where the various sections of the orchestra play against one another. These groups are: woodwind, brass, percussion, strings and a further group made up of piano, celesta and harp.
It is very strange that these works have not been widely performed, even in the composer's home country, and it is to be hoped that they will achieve more popularity from these recordings.
Dacapo have provided very comprehensive notes, and the recording is of very high quality - very like a top of the line BBC sound. The playing, although the works were unfamiliar, seems to be first rate, and this issue certainly gives the composer the highest level of advocacy. Roll on Volume 2."