Knudåge Riisager: Violin Works
13 May 2013
Knudåge Riisager was a violinist as well as a composer and he composed for the instrument over the course of his working life. The works in this disc are written for small-scale forces and date from the youthful Romance in C, composed in 1914, to the works written in his maturity in the early 1950s.
He was certainly in thrall to Scandinavian models when, as seventeen year-old, he penned the Romance; Svendsen, maybe, is the most prominent and the Minuet which followed the following year hints, here and there, that he knew his Kreisler as well. Rather defter, and showing more awareness of contemporary changes in harmony, is the Aquarelle in E major of 1917. This attractive watercolour reveals a fairly rapid mastery of material.
Continuing chronologically – though the disc doesn’t do so – we reach the Sonata No.2, Op.5, which was written in Paris between 1923 and ’24. This work represents an even bigger advance and ushers in Riisager’s maturity. There are late-Romantic elements, certainly, some of them indeed quite lush. But with some tart post-War harmonies and sideways glances at Stravinsky and even Prokofiev, the music is often tensile and exciting. The slow movement, whilst not in any way inexpressive, is quite cool, and this acts as a good foil to the outer one’s drive.
We’ve not discussed Riisager and neo-classicism, but that must be faced when, in 1933, he completed his Concertino for five violins and piano, Op.28a. He had been influenced by his studies in Leipzig the previous year and this clean-limbed piece, so cleverly written for the seemingly awkward combination, achieves a rare beauty in the slow movement. This is beautifully textured and reveals some unashamed romanticism amidst the more motoric freedoms of the outer movements.
After the War, Riisager found a muse in Wandy Tworek, a splendid violinist who made quite a few discs. He wrote Bricconata (Prank) for Tworek in 1952 and this genial virtuosic caprice pays testament to that effervescent fiddle player, who was also the dedicatee of Riisager’s excellent Violin Concerto: listen to Kai Laursen’s performance of the revised version on Danacord DACOCD468. Palavas (1951) is a Paganinian Fingerbuster, written for Tworek to dazzle his audiences. Whilst Sovesang (Lullaby) is an arrangement of a song it’s tastefully laid out for violin and piano and shows the composer’s gift for melody. Finally there is the Sonata for Two Solo Violins which could almost rival Prokofiev’s work for the same combination. It’s a neo-baroque piece full of resinous drive, sonic interest and interplay.
It’s worthwhile to point out that Tworek recorded the Lullaby and Palavas for Polyphon and the Second Violin Sonata – and the Piano Trio – for Decca LP. I think Danacord’s Historic wing is perfectly placed to restore these and other performances from a nearly forgotten fiddle player: I have a considerable wish-list.
The performances in this Dacapo disc however are excellent. Johannes Søe Hansen is very well teamed with Christina Bjørkøe and they make a fine case for the music. The other string players make a commendable ensemble in the Concertino. With first class notes and recorded sound Riisager is in the finest of hands here.