Poul Rovsing Olsen: Piano Concerto and Orchestral Works
21 March 2013
Holten conducts Frenchaccented Dane Olsen
If not the greatest of 20th-century Danish composers – Nielsen, Holmboe and Nørgård vie for that honour – Poul Rovsing Olsen (1922-82) was one of the most refined in sensibility. Francophile by inclination (he studied with Boulanger and Messiaen), he was never avant-garde but possessed rather of an inquiring musical intellect that left him open to many influences including non-European musics.
The Symphonic Variations (1953) were his first orchestral work and, in that light, are little short of astonishing. Running for a touch over a quarter of an hour, the variations are truly, if somewhat unorthodoxly, symphonic in character, the theme developing into a dodecaphonic variant although the work is freely tonal and not serial in nature. Dressed in beguiling orchestral garb, the Symphonic Variations are an undoubtedly appealing work and proved a springboard to his follow-up piece, the Piano Concerto (1953-54). This extrovert score is in three movements, Maestoso – Larghetto – Allegro, and receives a sparkling performance from Christina Bjørkøe. The chamber-orchestral Au fond de la nuit (1968) is the most advanced in style of the works here and the most extreme in subject, being a four-movement astronautical adventure, with a journey into ‘Space’, via the red supergiant ‘Betelgeuse’ and a dark ‘Dead Planet’ before the ‘Return’. The greatest depth is arguably that in the title but it makes for an imaginative quarter-hour concert-opener.
It is played with aplomb and audible relish, as are the couplings, by the Odense Symphony Orchestra, superbly marshalled by Bo Holten. Dacapo’s sound is excellent and the disc is a fine introduction to this composer.