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Jed Distler
Gramophone, September 2011

Hints of Grieg, Schumann and Messiaen in the Danish composer’s piano music

Imagine auditioning this disc with no clues about the composer Rued Langgaard and his nationality, or the works and when they were written, and then having to describe what you heard. You might ascribe the Allegretto from Remembrances of Summer to Grieg as rewritten by Schumann, yet Ravel’s “Ondine” kicks in at 18”, followed by a passage that smacks of Brahms’s late Intermezzos. Certainly it doesn’t sound like anything from 1940. By contrast, the 1921 Music of the Depths features slow, ceremonial, mystic Satie chords and birdsong evocations that predate Messiaen (they sound like Messiaen without sensuality or tone colour), followed by a section exploding with impassioned, Scriabinesque repeated chords that soon arpeggiate like Busoni’s polytonality on steroids. Should you want to hear Wagner’s Lohengrin in the style of yet another Brahms Intermezzo, listen to the 1904 Album Leaf.

However, when you arrive at the large scale 1934 Adorazione, the simple yet harmonically rich harp-like chords (later augmented by a chromatic counter line in octaves) clearly carry their own identity (OK, a tinge of Holst, but just a tinge!). The miniatures that encompass Langgaard’s Summer Holidays in Blekinge from 1916 are like Grieg’s Lyric Pieces off kilter. For example, the final piece, “Aften med Dans”, begins like an innocent salon waltz, yet the dynamic surges and petulant accents signify trouble up ahead in the form of restless modulations, only to calm down by way of a lyrical, chordal conclusion. Pianist Berit Johansen Tange has become a more confident and dynamically empowered Langgaard interpreter since her 2005 release devoted to the composer’s piano music, and seems more temperamentally attuned to the keyboard writing’s high quirk quotient and ear-catching inventiveness. The surround-sound option offers a fuller-bodied ambience in comparison with the conventional two-channel playback’s relatively dry, close-up sound.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2011

A highly gifted child in so many of the arts, Rued Langgaard began composing his many piano pieces at the age of eight. The only child of professional musicians, he made his debut in 1905 at the age of twelve as an organist in Copenhagen where he amazed the audience with improvisations. Despite so many prestigious chapters in his life, he had a troubled mind and was forty-seven before he gained a permanent position, and finding himself in a growing artistic isolation died at the age of fifty-nine. The present disc’s cover describes him as a ‘dreamer’, but it would probably be more true to say that he never found himself, a fact that is reflected in his ever-changing style of composition. Turn to Afgrundsmusik (Music of the Abyss) with the influences of Messiaen, Bach and Webern all mixed up in a nightmare world that is probably a reflection of the inner Langgaard. We meet a latter-day Grieg in Adorazione and Chopin in the Piano Piece in E major, and find a whole spectrum of influences in the ten charming sections of Sommerferie i Blekinge (Summer Holiday in Bleking). That dates from his twenty-third year when he had fallen in love, the happiness of his holiday readily communicated,the missing sections in his manuscript creatively completed by Niels Marthinsen. Taking more than half of the disc it is an extended piece, the remaining three pieces being cameo in length. Maybe I would want to remember Langgaard as an outstanding symphonist, but Berit Johansen Tange tries hard to make good sense of his vastly changing moods on this disc of excellent sound quality.

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