Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Email Password  
Not a subscriber yet?  
Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

James Leonard, July 2009

LANGGAARD, R.: Symphonies Nos. 12, “Helsingeborg”, 13, “Undertro” and 14, “Morgenen” (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard)

LANGGAARD, R.: Symphonies Nos. 15, “Sostormen” and 16, “Syndflod af Sol” (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard)

LANGGAARD, R.: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard)

LANGGAARD, R.: Symphonies Nos. 4, “Lovfald” and 5, “Steppenatur” (2 versions) (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard)

LANGGAARD, R.: Symphonies Nos. 6, “Det Himmelrivende”, 7 and 8, “Minder ved Amalienborg” (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard)

LANGGAARD, R.: Symphonies Nos. 9, “Fra Dronning Dagmars by”, 10, “Hin Torden-bolig” and 11, “Ixion” (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard)

LANGGAARD, R.: Symphony No. 1, “Klippepastoraler” (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard)

There are too few recordings of the music of Rued Langgaard, possibly because of the composer’s limited output. Of his 16 symphonies, the series of works upon which his reputation primarily rests, there are, with only few exceptions, just two recordings of each work—those recorded in the early ’90s by the Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Ilya Stupel, and these recorded in the late ’90s and early 2000s by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard. Of the two sets, this one by Dausgaard and the Danish orchestra is vastly preferable. The Danish orchestra is far more unified and professional, and their performances have a cogency and polish that the Polish orchestra conspicuously lacks. Dausgaard also seems to have affinity for, and understanding of, his countrymen’s music, while Stupel seems to have lots of enthusiasm but little comprehension of Langgaard’s work.

Born in 1893, Langgaard, a very late Romantic, embraced of the clichés of Romanticism without the burden of self-consciousness. There are searing parallel diminished seventh chords that were avant-garde in the 1840s, towering funeral marches that were cutting edge in the 1870s, and achingly slow movements that were de rigueur in the 1890s, but they all sound distinctly and painfully out of place in works composed decades later. Coupled with these anachronistic stylistic anomalies is Langgaard’s acute lack of self-criticism and self-restraint. Passages of tremendous banality and awesome bombast abound; in fact, it could be said that Langgaard’s music is essentially banal and bombastic and is too infrequently relieved by passages of unfeigned sincerity and seemingly unpremeditated beauty. For many, the ratio of banality to beauty in Langgaard’s music may be prohibitively weighed in the favor of the former. For listeners for whom the nine symphonies of Langgaard’s Swedish contemporary Kurt Atterberg are the last word in Scandinavian symphonism, however, Langgaard’s 16 symphonies may be just what they’ve been waiting for. Da Capo’s sound is rich, deep, clear, and colorful.

James Reel
Fanfare, July 2009

Thomas Dausgaard’s traversal of Rued Langgaard’s 16 symphonies easily outclasses Ilya Stupel’s earlier survey on Danacord; Dausgaard works with a better orchestra, and draws more consistently committed performances of what can be rather odd music. Dacapo has issued the entire Dausgaard series in a box, but at this writing only a few discs have been issued individually. This is the latest.

People who write about Langgaard’s music often mention his approach to and withdrawal from “modernist” tendencies, but remember that this is a composer who got his start at the beginning of the 20th century, when modernism meant Richard Strauss. There’s nothing on this disc wilder than Strauss, and not even to the extent of, say, Elektra. A few of the early pieces here even evoke Grieg. That’s surely intentional in Drapa, written (prematurely, as it turns out) to mark the death of Edvard Grieg. It’s heartfelt and dramatic, and suggests a Viking burial on a rough sea. Another “drapa” piece (the word refers to an Old Norse form of homage) is Hvidbjerg-Drapa, from near the end of Langgaard’s career, and commemorates the murder of a bishop in 1260. This one, a mere three minutes long, is full of turmoil, and more than hints at the anger and self-pity of the unsuccessful old composer himself. The piece, like everything else on this disc, gets a terrific, forceful performance.

Sphinx is an early, dark, compact tone-painting that might as easily be called Passing Storm, and employs a musical language similar to that of Rachmaninoff’s early tone poems, but without the Russian’s long melodic lines. The little Danmarks Radio fanfare and Res absùrda!? are, in different ways, roiling Straussian pieces. The latter item, which can be translated as “absurdity,” supposedly repeats its 30 bars for chorus and orchestra “so many times that the tempo cannot become faster and more furious.” It holds Dausgaard’s attention for five and a half minutes, but the ending is not substantially faster than the beginning.

The main fare here is Langgaard’s final pair of symphonies. Even the unpredictable Havergal Brian had a more consistent conception of the term “symphony” than did Langgaard, but these two are relatively conventional multi-movement works clocking in at either side of the 20-minute mark. The 16th, titled “Sun Deluge,” is for orchestra only; the 15th, “The Sea Storm,” adds bass-baritone solo and male chorus. These are both explosive late-Romantic works, and No. 16 is, indeed, generally brighter (more sun-drenched) than the music on the rest of this SACD.

The performances are committed, secure, and impassioned, and the audio is also excellent, aside from a slight tendency to turn tubby when the timpani hold forth. It’s all idiosyncratic and melodramatic, which in this case are positive qualities.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, June 2009

LANGGAARD: Symphony No. 1, “Klippepastoraler” (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard) 6.220525

LANGGAARD:  Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard) 6.220516

LANGGAARD: Symphonies Nos. 4, “Lovfald” and 5, “Steppenatur” (2 versions) (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard) 8.224215

LANGGAARD: Symphonies Nos. 6, “Det Himmelrivende”, 7 and 8, “Minder ved Amalienborg” (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard) 8.224180

LANGGAARD: Symphonies Nos. 9, “Fra Dronning Dagmars by”, 10, “Hin Torden-bolig” and 11, “Ixion” (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard) 8.224182

LANGGAARD: Symphonies Nos. 12, “Helsingeborg”, 13, “Undertro” and 14, “Morgenen” (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard) 6.220517

LANGGAARD: Symphonies Nos. 15, “Sostormen” and 16, “Syndflod af Sol” (Danish National Symphony, Dausgaard) 6.220519

Rued Langgaard’s sixteen symphonies and several shorter orchestral works are beautifully played by Thomas Dausgaard and the Danish National Orchestra with assists from soprano Inger Dam-Jensen, tenor Lars Petersen, baritone Johan Reuter, pianist Per Salo, the Danish National Choir and National Vocal Ensemble (hybrid SACD [some recorded DDD and remastered] 6.200001, seven discs). Langgaard’s haunting opera, “Antichrist” had a certain grittiness but lacked profile. The grittiness, it turns out, was more a function of his style in 1921 than a permanent feature of his music. The first three symphonies seem to have been written in a time warp. The First subtitled “Mountain Pastorales,” (1908–1911) utilizes, rather impressively, the Straussian orchestral apparatus, but without the latter’s very distinctive materials. The result is a busy, noisy, rambling and unfocussed score. The Second  (1912–14) requires a solo soprano and the Third is a concertante work for piano and orchestra with a noticeably bland solo part. The Fourth (1916, “Fall”) is eccentric music in one movement, with a rather original flow. The Fifth (1917–1931), of which two versions are included (the revision much more convincing than the original) is heavily influenced by Nielsen in sound and harmony. The Sixth (1920, revised 1930, “The Heaven-Rending”) has a wonderfully dissonant first movement, the most striking music of the early symphonies. Something happened between the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies. The composer turned on Strauss and Nielsen and espoused the earlier style of Gade, very evident in the Seventh (1926), especially the finale, although the orchestration remains in the Strauss orbit, producing odd effects in the remaining symphonies, some of which are very short pieces: Nos.11 and 12 are, respectively, six-and-a-half and seven minutes long, making them more like the short pieces on Disc 7 (Drapa, Sphinx, Hvidbjerg-Drapa, Denmarks Radio (fanfares) and Res Absùrda than the rest of the symphonies, which average over 20 minutes. There are two exceptions to Langgaard’s stylistic rambles. The Ninth (“From Queen Dagmar’s City”) deals with a 13th-century Queen of Denmark, so the older idioms seem more convincing. The last symphony, No.16 (1950–51, he died in 1952) is impressive, as if the composer finally came to grips with his self-imposed stylistic restrictions and surpassed them. On the whole, the music, although well made and well sounding, has a tendency to ramble, no matter whose style it is written in. Langgaard was too unorthodox for his time, and, unfortunately, for ours. Excellent sound.

Richard Freed, June 2009

Particularly striking is the collection of the 16 symphonies and five shorter orchestral pieces by the Danish composer Rued Langgaard (1893–1952), issued fairly recently on seven SACDs from Dacapo and now gathered into a seven-disc set (6.200001). Langgaard’s name is not entirely unknown to us—some of the individual symphonies were available here on LP, and more recently the Finnish conductor Leif Segerstam has recorded some of them—but the cycle recorded very recently, in SACD, by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard has several things going for it. All the performances are based on the latest scholarly editions and radiate an altogether understandable national feeling and national pride. All seven of the CDs in this new set have been issued separately, so the issue now is simply whether to buy those seven individual CDs or go for the boxed set.

The presentation itself is handsome, convenient and unusually imaginative…this music is worth your attention.

Roger Hecht
American Record Guide, May 2009

This is the latest entry in Dacapo’s Rued Langgaard series. Deliberate or not, its theme is contained in the subtitle to Symphony No. 15 (Sea Storm, 1949): “stormy” applies in some way to every work. The turbulent 15th was inspired by a walk Langgaard took in Ribe late on the proverbial dark and stormy night. In a preface to the symphony, he compared the decadence of Ribe to Bruges, Belgium—an idea he drew from Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte, which also inspired Die Tote Stadt by Korngold.

The atmosphere of night and desolation is redolent in the opening surge of the string theme. The orchestra seems to be struggling in itself, thrusting and parrying with frightening tinny chimes, big horn chords, sustained blares and fierce jabs in the brass, and pounding timpani. Toward the end, a dark hymn in the low strings alters with high organ-like woodwind chords. The short Scherzo is slower than the name implies and similar to a landler.

Adagio Funebre seems to be greeting death with stark, brooding anger. Mahler hangs in the air, but this music is simpler and more direct. For the finale, Langgaard attached a 1937 work for baritone, male choir, and orchestra called The Night Storm. The text is a poem by Thoger Larsen that was another source of inspiration for the symphony. Its alarmist flurry of strings and the quartal harmony of the opening remind me of Paul von Klenau. Later, the strong, macabre music surging over pounding timpani, abetted by the dark baritone soloist and male chorus, sounds like a huge wall of wind and water. There is also a hint of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman in the rhythm of the male chorus.

Drapa on the Death of Edvard Grieg (1907, revised 1913) is more of a testament to Grieg than a funeral oration—and it actually appeared a few months before Grieg died. At the risk of mixing nationalities, the work is in the romantic Scandinavian tradition and paints Grieg as a Lisztian hero. It is a stirring, powerful march. According to lines from a Victor Rydberg poem that Langgaard added to the score, Sphinx (1910, revised 1913) is music like a “crystal tower that reaches down to the depths of the unknown and up through the heavens, above the stars to inconceivable heights” (Bendt Vlinholt Nielsen’s notes). I don’t hear this image so much as a piece that is similar in mood to the Grieg Drapa but more mysterious, less heroic, and far stormier. Quite notable is a “staircase interval” that rises in an atmosphere of fury, with brass driving upward amid a torrent of strings. The brass theme takes over until the skies clear amid long-lined, Wagnerian wandering in the strings before the music settles quietly back into the depths of the orchestra.

Hvidbjerg Drapa (1948) refers to the 1260 Christmas Eve slaying in Jutland of Bishop Oluf Glob of Borglum by his nephew, Jens Glob, in a dispute over property, honor, and religion. It is a violent, warlike piece with pounding low brass amid fiery strings and timpani. Short as it is, the work has time for an imposing organ solo and a choral exhortation of Glob’s shout to his uncle before killing him: “If there is justice on earth, then I shall know how to obtain it myself.” The even shorter Danish Radio is more thunder and lighting, with a touch of a fanfare just before the dissonant ending.

Res Absurda!? is Langgaard’s Bolero—sort of—on a triple dose of a steroid that could power an elephant. The work repeats 30 tumultuous bars for chorus and orchestra for 5-1/2 minutes, each time a little faster. It sounds like a huge, frustrated giant flailing into the air—or Langgaard absurdly composing in the face of hostile critics.

The weather changes with Langgaard’s last symphony, the 16th (Sun Deluge, 1951). After a stroke a year earlier, the composer saw the piece as a testament to his career and “the conclusion of music’s mission in the world”. While not exactly sunny, the 16th has a bit of soaring about it as well as nostalgia for the composer’s youth. The model is mainly Richard Strauss, particularly Der Rosenkavalier (though suffused with more energy and surge than the opera). The bucolic Scherzo adds Mendelssohn to Strauss. III began as a work titled Storm in the Air. Langgaard retitled it ‘Punishment Dance’. Its role as a symbol of light-versus-darkness becomes apparent when its sweeping, almost light-hearted Straussian flair darkens with a dial-up in tension. ‘Elegy’ consists mainly of intimate melodic fragments strung together. It has the same calming effect on what has gone before that the Adagietto has on Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. The Finale is quite dissonant until its triumphant, consonant ending.

Dausgaard’s Langgaard set continues to be the best I’ve heard, and I recommend this entry highly. The sound is excellent, and the notes supply plenty of interesting background material.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2009

Rued Langgaard chose to ignore the dramatic changes that swept through music at the onset of the 20th century, this outsider in Denmark’s artistic world simply carrying on where the Romantic era had left off. That fact alone alienated him from the nation’s music establishment, his works seldom performed, though he was never to doubt the path that he was following. It was not until after his death in 1952, at the age of 59, that his works began to receive the approbation they deserved, the Dacapo record label doing much to further his cause on the international scene. He wrote 16 symphonies, the final two recorded here being quite brief. The Fifteenth, given the sub-title ‘Sostormen’ (The Sea Storm), being a dramatic score in one movement, and which Sibelius would have described as a tone-poem. Scored for orchestra, with a baritone soloist and chorus in the final section, its harmonic roots are firmly embedded in Wagner and Strauss, the feeling of strength capturing a seascape of turbulence. The Sixteenth is in five movements and described by the composer as a contrast between light and darkness. Langgaard wrote that it was his last testimony to a Romantic era that he believed was dying with him, and his sadness is never far below the surface. Both are well played by the Danish National Symphony and their conductor, Thomas Dausgaard, and they add five shorter pieces, Drapa, Sphinx, Hvidbjerg-Drapa, Danmarks Radio and Res Absurda. The first of these an early score from 1907 written as a sombre and deeply moving elegy on Grieg’s death.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group