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Dacapo - The National Music Anthology of Denmark

Format:  SACD

Catalogue Number:  6.200002

Barcode:  0747313300266

Release Date:  Nov 2009

Period:  Romantic

Review


Asger Hamerik: The Symphonies

01 February 2010  Gramophone
Guy Rickards

The complete symphonic output of a long-forgotten Danish master

There was a time when Asger Hamerik (born Hammerich in 1843) was the best-known Danish composer after Gade. For 27 years director of Baltimore's Peabody Institute, Hamerik had been a pupil of von Bülow and Berlioz, occasionally deputising on the podium for the latter in his declining years. The Requiem (1886-87) confirms Berlioz's influence, whether in the conflation of the "Requiem aeternam" and "Kyrie eleison" or use of the "Dies irae" plainchant in the movement of the same name. A rather fine piece, derivative perhaps, it occupies expressive ground between the light of Fauré and the drama of Verdi.

Hamerik was an experienced composer of operas and orchestral works when he came to write his First Symphony (see Knud Ketting's notes for the curiosities over its completion date). Attractive but structurally naive in places, a lesson not learnt in its successor, the still conservative Third (1883-84) is more imaginative in this respect though there seems little difference expressively between the First's Poétique and Third's Lyrique; the Second (1882-83) is more dramatique than Tragique. With No 4 (1888-89), dedicated to King Christian IX of Denmark, his style deepened into the "grand manner" that Havergal Brian noted in Musical Opinion in 1936 (reprinted in Brian on Music, Vol 2 - see page 102). It is not hard to see why this was his most popular symphony in Denmark.

Titling his Fifth (1889-91) Symphonie sérieuse brings inevitable comparisons with Berwald, not to Hamerik's benefit. The Sixth for strings alone, however, is an unqualified masterpiece, exalted and dignified in tone, a delight to play and listen to - no wonder Boyd Neel recorded it with his orchestra in 1946. The luminous Choral Seventh (1906) dates from after his return to Denmark setting a text he and his wife created on "Life, Death and Immortality" and proves a fitting culmination to the cycle. Dausgaard conducts with all the verve we expect from him, relishing the combination of late-Romantic lyricism and Berliozian instrumental dash. Hamerik may not have been ultimately of the front rank and was in time eclipsed by Nielsen and Holmboe, but his art was a fine addition to European culture. Topnotch sound from Dacapo makes this a highly enjoyable set.





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