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Harry van der Wal
Harry’s classical music corner, November 2017

The performance is top notch and that goes for all participants. The vocal contribution in the opus 32 are terrific, adding some fear into this mystical score, especially in the “Dust storm”, and the “Women’s Dance”.

Hardenberger is a fine musician, who plays with a sense for dynamics and accents that puts him easily in the top of his trade. The orchestra is excellent. Dausgaard makes the music come very close to utter perfection. © 2017 Harry’s classical music corner Read complete review

John Miller, February 2014

Highly recommended for brilliant performance and impressive sonics. © 2014 Read complete review

Robert Benson, November 2010

Knudage Riisager (1897–1974) was a respected Danish composer who composed primarily for the ballet. His music is brilliant, imaginative and often shows the French influence of his studies in Paris with Roussel. This well-filled disk features much of Riisager’s music for the stage in definitive performances beautifully played by the Danish forces. This is not a new recording; it originally was issued in 1998 on regular CD—now we have it in this SACD reprocessing which adds little to the previous sonic picture. This is a delightful release!

Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, November 2010

Knudåge Riisager is certainly not the only composer who had a career in an unrelated field. He is more unusual in the recognition that he received, for his compositions and his musical advocacy, during his lifetime. After working as a civil servant for much of his life—he was educated in political science and was, in the last decade of his career, a department head in the Danish Ministry of Finance—he retired in 1950 and turned his full attention to music. This was not where it started, though, as his most productive years as a composer—and the ones chronicled here—paralleled his government career. He began his music education as a teenager. Then, before beginning his office job, he took a study trip to Paris, became a pupil of Albert Roussel—himself a latecomer to music—and Paul Le Flem, fell under the influence of Les Six, and experienced the new music of Prokofiev, Honegger, Bartók, and Stravinsky. He returned to successfully champion new music—his own and other’s— in Nielsen-besotted Denmark, achieving what near-contemporary Rued Langgaard had failed to do during the same period. Of course, Riisanger had charm and a sense of humor, and wrote beautifully crafted and easily appreciated neoclassical works inspired by his French mentors and Russian muses. Such was his success that in 1937 he was named the chairman of the Association of Danish Composers, a position he held for 25 years. In 1956 he began an 11-year tenure as director of the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen. He died in 1974, a revered and popular artist.

I’m not quite sure what all of this research, and a passing familiarity with the Trumpet Concertino, led me to expect, aside from formality and clarity of texture mixed with, perhaps, some French nonchalance. I was not prepared for the first three ballet suites on this release. There is an appealing surface artlessness to the Fool’s Paradise suites and the six dances from Twelve By the Mail that suggests, in their hidden sophistication, the musical revels of Les Six. They are otherwise reminiscent of English light music of the period. Riisager’s orchestrations are uniformly brilliant, his lovely melodies charming or nostalgic. Their obvious popular appeal—almost movie score-like at times—is spiced with some piquant, though subtly applied, dissonances and occasional forays into polytonality. It is all very pleasant, generally bright and cheery, though perhaps best taken in smaller doses to prevent overdose.

The Trumpet Concertino is a more substantial work, very much influenced by Stravinsky’s neoclassical style, though with little of the Russian composer’s occasionally chilly perfection. The opening and closing movements are, in fact, decidedly quirky, almost a parody of a classical concerto. The central movement is notable, however, for a depth of feeling unique among the works on this disc, though the first movement of the suite from Darduse comes close. In this latter piece, one hears the influence of Roussel’s tutelage most clearly, and more than a bit of the Impressionism that his teacher had eventually rejected. Thereafter, we are back to the lighter music, depicting cock fights and wedding processions. What sets this suite apart is the darker orchestral palette, more dissonant language—though still relatively mild—and the innovative use of chorus. The voices are used to suggest the violent wind of a Grofé-like dust storm (uncharacteristically forbidding, though all, including the chorus, ends peacefully) and the singing of the participants in the folk-inspired Women’s Dance.

Paul Snook welcomed this release in these pages (Fanfare 21:6) in its 1998 CD incarnation. This SACD rerelease restores it to the catalog. While I cannot say I am quite as enthusiastic as my colleague—he included it on his Want List for that year—I certainly enjoyed the disc. Thomas Dausgaard and his fine Swedish orchestra are eloquent advocates. Håkan Hardenberger is luxury casting for the not terribly challenging trumpet solo, as is the superlative Ars Nova Copenhagen (as it is now known) in the choral segments. The sound is very fine in stereo, though a quick check of the multichannel layer reveals little information in the rear. Those who missed this on the first go-around will be pleased, as will students of Danish music, and fans of well-made lighter music.

Barry Kilpatrick
American Record Guide, September 2010

First released in 1998 on Marco Polo and now upgraded to SACD, this collection of works by Danish composer Knudige Riisager (1897-1974) was praised by our reviewer, Carl Bauman (July/Aug 1998). He wondered why the Concertino for Trumpet and Strings (1933) had not appeared on more recordings, and he would still wonder today—as far as I can tell, this is still the only one. It is a very attractive, neo-baroque work that takes frequent and unpredictable harmonic twists. It asks the soloist to play lightly and elegantly, and Swedish trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger does so with precision and purity of tone.

The rest of the program consists of character portrayals, none longer than five minutes. I thoroughly enjoy all of them. Like Tchaikovsky in The Nutcracker, Riisager was able to capture human traits (oddity, nobility, gentleness, etc) with attractive melodies, harmonies, and instrumentation. In the eight short movements that constitute Suite I from Slaraffenland (Fool’s Paradise, 1936), the Prelude and ‘Departure’ are lively and full of splendid brass parts; ‘Princess Sweets’ is like a lullaby; ‘Lazybones Polka’ is a witty dance that gives melodies to bassoons, trumpets, and tuba, among others; ‘The Royal Guardsmen’ has more glorious brass; ‘Fountains of Liqueurs’ has mysterious woodwind melodies; ‘Procession of Gluttons’ begins with low-brass grotesquery; and ‘Punctum Finale’ is a merry romp. Fool’s Paradise Suite II (1940), dances from the ballet Twelve by the Mail (1939), and dances from the fairy-tale play Darduse (1937) are all cut from the same cloth.

Mr Bauman said “the Helsingborg Symphony (Elsinore) plays brilliantly for Thomas Dausgaard”, and I agree. It has a rich, full-bodied sound.

Ballet Review, June 2010

In these four scores Riisager, Denmark’s most internationally minded composer, captures key Danish qualities. Harald Lander’s 1942 ballet Slaraffenland (Fool’s Paradise) treats a young boy rebelling against restrictions and imagining a land of sweets, adventures, and lazydays,a Danish version of Richard Strauss’s Schlagobers. To the original eight-movement suite, Riisager added another six movements, ranging from cartoon-like fun to a lovely pas de deux.

On this disc,originally issued on Marco Polo, Dausgaard also gives us six charming movements from Børge Ralov’s 1942 ballet Twelvefor the Mail Coach, inwhich the coach’s passengers represent the months, as well as six dramatic movements from music for a 1937 play, Darduse: A Wedding in Peking, and the lively 1933 Trumpet Concerto. Hardenberger and Dausgaard’s Swedish orchestra play everything with suitable relish.

DaCapo also follows its recent selection of orchestral tidbits by Jacob Gade, composer of Jealousy, that infectious Danish tango, with a collection of equally charming waltzes and tangos for piano that will appeal to lovers of light music [GADE, J.: Waltzes, Tangos and Cinema Music (Westergaard) 8.226057]. As interesting are six pieces from his four collections of music to accompany silent films, the real thing, by a master practitioner who could evoke diverse moods by the simplest means.Westergaard clearly has their measure, as with everything else.

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