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Dacapo - Danmarks Nationale Musikantologi

Format:  SACD

Katalognummer:  6.220535

Stregkode:  747313153565

Udgivelsesmåned:  Aug 2010

Periode:  Tidligt 20. århundrede


Rued Langgaard: Sfærerens musik

25 February 2011  Fanfare
Ronald E. Grames

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 natureinspired symphonies are unruly but promising, and met with some success in Germany, and to a lesser extent in Denmark. A few years later, written between 1916 and 1918 an 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 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, 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 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

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