The Art of Emil Reesen (1887-1964) as conductor. © 2023 Danacord Records

CD Spotlight


GERALD FENECH listens to recordings by the Danish conductor Emil Reesen

'... full of dash and spirit ...'


When one mentions the name Emil Reesen, not many eyebrows are raised. Indeed, outside his native Denmark, he is hardly ever mentioned. But his career contributed much to the musical world in general during the first half of the twentieth century, and this issue should start to put the record straight.

Reesen was born in 1887 into a musical family, and at the age of four he had already mastered the piano and violin. No surprise here, as his parents were both accomplished musicians. At fourteen he was playing the piano in cafes, and a year later he appeared with the status of conductor in the Nykobing Falster Revue. Sadly, he failed the admission test to the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen, something that continued to irritate him for many years later. He had the good fortune to be one of Liszt's pupils, and in 1911 he was performing Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto.

Despite all this relationship with the piano, his ardent wish was always that of becoming a famous theatre conductor. Indeed, by 1921 he had already conducted concerts at the Tivoli Summer Theatre (1917), the Dagmar Theatre (1919) and the Scala Theatre (1921). It was in these venues that he performed in the biggest operettas and revues, and Reesen both conducted and composed for the productions.

In 1925 he travelled with his family to Paris where he experienced two and a half years of success. In 1927 Reesen came back to Copenhagen, where he was employed as a conductor on an equal footing with the great Launy Grondahl, who was in charge of the newly founded Danish Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra.

In 1936, after a bitter feud with the Danish Radio, his career with the latter came to an abrupt end, and for the rest of his life Reesen was a freelance conductor. He conducted such great ensembles as the Vienna Symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic, and he even found time to compose film music. In his final years, Reesen was struck by paralysis and he died in 1964, aged seventy-six. Today his works are by and large unknown, but we do have records of his conducting talents, although these are at a premium.

This wonderful issue dedicated to Reesen's art is overwhelmingly welcome, if only for the chance to listen to Reesen's innate devotion to what he was conducting. The programme is light in nature, and encapsulates works by twelve composers of whom some are household names such as Johann Strauss II, Josef Strauss, Nielsen and Lumbye.

Listen — Hans Christian Lumbye: Drømmebilleder (Dream Pictures)
(DACOCD 958 track 17, 0:00-0:50) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

Others less familiar but no less prolific like Jacob and Niels Gade, Krøyer, Lange-Müller and Kuhlau are also represented.

Listen — Friedrich Kuhlau: Potpourri (Elverhøj)
(DACOCD 958 track 13, 6:14-6:59) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

These recordings were made between 1929 and 1946, so do not expect a sonic spectacular. Still Reesen's interpretations are full of dash and spirit, and his shaping of the pieces reminded me of Boskovsky's joie de vivre.

Listen — Carl Nielsen: Overture (Maskarade)
(DACOCD 958 track 18, 3:19-4:16) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

A remarkable 'Jack-of-all-trades' conductor who mastered all genres and styles that deserves to be investigated assiduously and with genuine intent.

Copyright © 3 May 2023 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta



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