Finn Høffding: Orchestral Works
16 August 2012
American Record Guide
Mark L Lehman
Annotator Per Norgard describes Finn Hoffding (1899-1997) as the link between Nielsen and the three great Danish symphonists of the generation following him—Bentzon, Holmboe, and Koppel (...). That may well be, but the superbly performed- and-recorded orchestral works here, though they show affinities with both Nielsen and the later Danish “Big Three”, are just as close to many other between-the-wars, modern-but-romantic symphonists from many countries. One hears echoes of Shostakovich, of Americans like David Diamond or Walter Piston, of Englishmen like Richard Arnell or Stanley Bate or Bernard Stevens, of Dutchmen like Henk Badings, of Germans like Harald Genzmer, of Norwegians like Klaus Egge, of Slavs like Graznya Bacewicz. One could adduce dozens more—but none Gallic or Mediterranean. Hoffding is sturdy and solid, never frothy or hedonic—even when he’s joking.
By far the most ambitious and substantial work here is the 1928 Third Symphony. It’s in four movements lasting 36 minutes, and with an extensive part (orchestral—not soloistic) for two pianos that color the music with their own sonorities both in big chordal announcements and in single-line articulative edges they add to other instruments. Like so many other symphonies from the war-torn first half of the last century, the symphony has a somewhat dark, martial character, with pounding marches, minatory battle-cries, and roiling percussion, as well as an elegiac slow movement brooded over by long-lined laments in the winds from which funereal marches erupt and then subside. But I wouldn’t call it a “war symphony” exactly; the turmoil is more sublimated, more controlled and “objective”, or perhaps just more stoic, than such a designation suggests. At any rate the symphony is shapely, potent, dramatic, and powerful without eccentricity or bombast—well worth seeking out for listeners drawn to modern-but-mainstream symphonic music.
Two shorter works fill out the program. Evolution, from 1939, is a 15-minute “symphonic fantasy” (as the composer describes it) that’s sometimes wispy, sometimes vehement, and as a whole rather enigmatic. It’s Perfectly True, from 1943, is another fantasy, this one programmatic rather than abstract, as well as shorter and more playful. It’s based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a hen who makes an ill-considered comment about a missing feather (musically depicted as a brief “clucking” motive in the winds) that’s inflated out of all proportion as it’s passed around a circle of gossips—somewhat like the treatment afforded the musical theme itself. Indeed both “fantasies” could as easily be described as variation cycles. Though both are cleverly made, these minor works don’t present the fuller picture of Hoffding’s gifts offered by his more memorable and imposing Third Symphony.