Rued Langgaard: Music of the Spheres
04 October 2010
The Arts Desk
CD of the Month, Oktober 2010 - The Arts Desk
One of those legendary works more talked about than actually performed, Danish composer Rued Langgaard's crazy Music of the Spheres received its Proms premiere this year. Composed between 1916 and 1918, it's an extravagantly scored work for soprano, chorus, orchestra and "distant orchestra" - a piece full of spatial effects which came over brilliantly in the vast Albert Hall. Langgaard was an oddity, a gifted outsider who remained fiercely distinct from the mainstream Danish musical establishment. He loathed the music of his more celebrated near-contemporary Carl Nielsen and found himself increasingly isolated until his death in 1952.
Music of the Spheres dates from the most adventurous, early phase in his career. You need to be careful when listening to Thomas Dausgaard's live recording - the quiet bits are almost imperceptible, so you crank up the volume and then get poleaxed by a tutti passage of seismic power. There's little conventional development; rather an unexpected sequence of events. Langgaard's orchestration can be startling - it's hard to believe that the shimmering opening wasn't written 40 years later. There's an impressive organ flourish, tumultuous timpani thwacks and some splendid, fruity choral writing, but the most memorable moments are where Langgaard holds back, and we're left floating in the most delicate, rarified air. It's the sort of piece with an atmosphere and impact almost impossible to express in words; suffice to say that it's also completely accessible if you've a weakness for big romantic pieces with choirs, and that this is a really good performance, ending in a riot of brass and bells which thins out into eerie glissandi played on piano strings, soft singing and a final blazing unanswered question.
This is possibly the strangest, most delicious music you're likely to hear all year. Good couplings too - the extracts from Langgaard's opera Antikrist, plus his spooky final work, From the Abyss. Fabulous.