Rued Langgaard: Messis
29 June 2009
Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) was something of a musical teenage delinquent in Denmark's musical scene; for some years his music languished nearly forgotten until it was reassessed in the 1960s. No one has done more to rehabilitate Langgaard than Bengt Viinholt Nielsen, author of the fine essay accompanying this release.
Messis, which means "The Time of Harvest" is a substantial work lasting nigh on two hours in total and written almost entirely for organ solo. The child Langgaard had made something of a name for himself in 1905 as an 11-year-old improviser on the organ. His First Symphony, most recently recorded by DaCapo and released on SACD 6.220525, and also included in the boxed set of all the symphonies on 6.200001 was first performed when the composer was but 18, and is a sizeable work for large orchestra and lasts about an hour. Unfortunately, this work was not greeted warmly, and while his music was occasionally performed in Germany until the late 1920s, performances at home rather petered out. Derogatory remarks about Carl Nielsen made by Langgaard and his mother helped move him to the very fringes of musical life in Denmark.After the mid-1920s, Langgaard's music had become backward-looking, harking towards the age of Gade and Schumann, and during the 1930s, he had almost ceased writing, that is, apart from Messis. It took until 1940 for Langgaard to obtain his first and only full-time post, that of organist at Rabe, and it was here that Messis was completed and revised - Langgaard was an inveterate tinkerer with his works.
Langgaard himself performed parts of Messis at Rabe Cathedral in the very early 1950s. Written in three sections and a postlude, the work is meant to be performed over a series of evenings, and the music has much variety. There are passages which are open and confident, others which are discordant and acid. Use is made of chorales, small quotations from other composers and folk tunes. Above all, there is the feeing of a free spirit extemporising, and I found much pleasure in sitting back, enjoying the sound and just let it waft over me.The first disc opens with In Tenebras Exteriores, written after the three Messis evenings, and was inspired by the Parable of the Wedding Feast, in which the groom's father is noticed by the King as inappropriately dressed, and so is cast, bound hand and foot, into the outer darkness. Langgaard may well have considered this a self-portrait, the misfit of Danish music. The piece ends B, A, D, Eb, spelling out HADES. The three evenings' music was inspired by biblical quotations, these all included in the handsome booklet.The performance made on the organ of Copenhagen Cathedral sounds superb; Flemming Dreisig conjures a very wide palette of sound from the fine five manual Marcussen organ whose specification is included. Certainly it contains a frighteningly accurate "goat stop"!
Technically, this is, I feel, a superb recording of an organ, the sound particularly in multichannel mode reproducing the ample acoustic with complete success. Indeed, this is one of the finest organ recordings I have heard; and with such rare and rewarding, largely romantic sounds, it is to be highly recommended.