Jørgen Jersild: Chamber Music
01 February 2014
David FanningJørgen jersild (1913-2004) was a pupil of Poul Schierbeck and thus a grand-pupil of Nielsen
. He was introduced by his teacher to Roussel when the latter visited Copenhagen in 1935, before settling down to a career as professor of aural training at the Royal Danish Academy. His three-month period of study with the Frenchman evidently left its mark, because his music is characterised by pungent yet carefully controlled harmonies and effective instrumentation - never a note out of place and nothing remotely tasteless or gimmicky.
As with so much Francophile neo-classicism, the woodwind-writing is particularly grateful. The three-movement quintet Music-Making in the Forest (1947) dares to take on the genre Nielsen himself had so beautifully renewed and, without achieving comparable distinctiveness, it offers ear-pleasing material for a professional or student ensemble. A few borrowings from The Soldier's Tale add some spice to the French-pastoral idiom. In the 1934 Quartet for the unusual combination of violin, viola, clarinet and bassoon it is Stravinsky's Octet that looms large. But the unusual timbral combination undoubtedly exerts an appeal and the piece shows that Jersild was ripe for the encounter with Roussel even before it happened.
Where would the innocent ear place the Trois pièces en concert of 1945, I wonder? The first movement pays homage to Bartók and Hindemith, while the second and third again evoke French neo-classicism (specifically Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin, as Claus Røllum-Larsen's informative booklet essay points out). Here too the tone of voice is modest but not entirely self-effacing, and it's not hard to see why the work has been quite widely taken up by pianists in Denmark.
Placed first on the disc, the String Quartet strikes me as more problematic. Shapely and expressive it may be, but the impression remains of music composed under the influence of Berg's Lyric Suite but without comparable fire or the variety of pace that would justify its 31-minute span. For something composed in 1980 it really feels rather tame. Even so, the disc makes a worthwhile introduction to a more than respectable voice in Danish music, and an excellent vehicle for the outstanding skills of the Ensemble MidtVest.