Leif Kayser: Symphonies, Vol. 2
17 May 2012
Danish composer Leif Kayser, a successor of Nielsen who has just been exhumed from the archives, had an interesting life story. After his first two symphonies (the second appears on a companion to the present release, along with the Symphony No. 3) confirmed him as a young composer to watch, he cut back his musical activities, in the middle of World War II, to travel from Lutheran Denmark to Rome to study for the Catholic priesthood. He subsequently returned to composing, having stayed clear of the rise of the postwar avant-garde, and he forged a unique style that showed the effects of both his immersion in Catholicism and his arm's length relationship to modernism. The sound of Gregorian chant gives a subtle but intriguing flavor to the thematic material of the Symphony No. 4, which took shape between 1945 and 1963. That work, while falling into the conventional four-movement symphonic form (with the scherzo second), has an unusual shape, with a slow movement that dwarfs the other three. It's well worth hearing.
Kayser may have been a conservative by 1960s standards, but he was no latter-day Romantic. This gigantic slow movement, though tonal, is full of moments of dissonance that, instead of resolving, stand as pillars of a structure worked out to the smallest detail. The movement is full of striking moments such as one in which the strings circle around a minor third while the brasses build to a rhythmically unsettled climax. The mood is unremittingly grim, for which reason the symphony may bring those of Sibelius to mind. But really the music sounds very little like that of any other composer and was well worth reviving. The ostensibly single-movement Symphony No. 1 at the beginning of the disc (there are four clear movements, run together), is clearly indebted to Nielsen in its cyclical treatment of themese, but is an extremely accomplished piece of work for a 19 year old. The Ålborg Symphony Orchestra under Matthias Aeschbacher is not a virtuoso ensemble, but seems to have an uncanny feel for this music and its unusual scope. Highly recommended.