Thomas Jensen Legacy - Volume 16. © 2023 Danacord Records

CD Spotlight

Vibrant and Adventurous

GERALD FENECH listens to more recordings by the Danish conductor Thomas Jensen

'... another jewel in the Thomas Jensen treasure-trove ...'


This Volume 16 in Danacord's cycle dedicated to the legacy of legendary Danish conductor Thomas Jensen is a mixed bag indeed. The programme includes six composers of which three are staple diet of the concert halls: Jean Sibelius, Carl Nielsen and Bedřich Smetana. Broadcast performances of the fifth and sixth Symphonies complete a Sibelius cycle which demonstrates the conductor's special affinity with this music which he played under the composer's direction as a cellist.

Nielsen's second Symphony, The Four Temperaments, and Smetana's The Moldau from Ma Vlast (My Country) need no introduction, but in Jensen's hands they are made to sound more vibrant and adventurous.

Listen — Nielsen: Allegro collerico (Symphony No 2 - The Four Temperaments)
(DACOCD 926 CD2 track 11, 0:00-0:48) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

Due to space constraints I decided to leave out the detailed information I usually include in my reviews, as these three composers and their music are so very well-known. Instead, I am very eager to shed some light on the other three composers included in this set, who are practically unknown outside their native Denmark. Jensen worked tirelessly for Danish composers throughout his career, and this Volume 16 includes newly published performances of works by these three composers who still languish by the wayside of European music, but who emerged from the shadow cast by Carl Nielsen to write in a distinctively individual but still quintessentially Danish idiom.

Laurids Lauridsen (1882-1946) was born in Arnborgas, the son of a farm owner. Early in his childhood he was struck by an illness and became blind. In 1892 he entered the Royal Institute for the Blind in Copenhagen where he learned how to play the organ and piano as well as music theory. After 1902 he continued his education at the Conservatory of Music and passed the organ exam in 1904. After unsuccessfully applying for several organist positions in Copenhagen in 1910, he finally landed the job at Skive church, where he was organist until his death in 1946 aged sixty-three.

During his lifetime Lauridsen managed to get a lot of his music performed, such as songs, chamber works and orchestral pieces but, sadly, after his demise he was almost totally forgotten. 'Little Suite' (1939) is in three movements that last only seven minutes but, although the music is simply constructed, there are enough delightful moments to cheer the heart.

Listen — Laurids Lauridsen: Legende (Little Suite)
(DACOCD 926 CD2 track 2, 0:00-0:57) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

Erling Brene (1896-1980) was a well-known composer in his native Denmark. He first received his education as a tradesman before he was admitted to the Royal Danish Music Conservatoire to study violin and composition. But he disliked life at the Conservatoire and soon he left to become a student of Ludolf Nielsen. Later Brene fell under the spell of Béla Bartók and Igor Stravinsky, and during the 1930s he became a member of the Young Musical Artists Society, hoping to search for new paths of presenting music. Even though Brene could be considered avant-garde in his time, he was later criticized as old-fashioned.

From 1950 to 1970 he worked as a music teacher at the Elliebjerg School in Copenhagen, and one of the most important accolades given to him was a bronze medal at the 1948 London Olympics for his composition 'Vigour', which was played during the Games. His catalogue is substantial and includes operas, incidental, concert and orchestral music, chamber music, piano and vocal pieces as well as choral works. The Concerto senza Solennita' for Flute and Orchestra dates from 1936 and, like the Lauridsen piece, its duration is very short, considering it is in three movements. Indeed, it only lasts for ten minutes but the music is fresh, light and highly enjoyable. The final movement in particular, 'Frettoloso', is delectably animated and is a fitting end to a composition that makes you feel 'On Wings of Song'.

Listen — Erling Brene: Frettoloso (Concerto senza Solennita)
(DACOCD 926 CD2 track 6, 0:00-0:59) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

Poul Schierbeck (1888-1949) grew up in a doctor's family in Copenhagen where music was a favourite pastime. His first academic foray was to study law, but he soon gave up this career in favour of music. Studies with Carl Nielsen and Thomas Laub (composition), Paul Hellmuth (organ) and Henrik Knudsen (piano) soon set him on his way to becoming a composer, making his debut in this role in 1915.

The next year he was engaged as an organist at Skoshoved, a post he held until his death in 1949. At the centre of Schierbeck's output stands the opera Fete Galante, which was successfully staged seven times, with Sylvia Larsen, Schierbeck's wife whom he married in 1919, in the principal role. Still, the composer aroused most attention with his songs in the popular genre and seventeen cantatas. His rare talent for instrumentation also drew the attention of film director Carl Theodore Dreyer, who contracted Schierbeck to write music for several of his short films. His last major composition was Queen Dagner, a choral piece for soloists, chorus and orchestra based on a famous episode from Denmark's medieval history.

Schierbeck is represented here by four works that display the natural versatility of this composer. Indeed, the Overture to Féte Galante, Op 25, the Viking Song, Op 22, the Cantata, Op 16 and the Academic Festival Music, Op 17 - the latter two both composed for the occasion of the University Matriculation Day - contain music that is superbly orchestrated with plenty of spirit and harmonic audacity. The festive pieces in particular are intensely colourful and rhythmically rousing.

Listen — Poul Schierbeck: Féte Galante Overture
(DACOCD 926 CD2 track 8, 0:01-0:52) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

This is another jewel in the Thomas Jensen treasure-trove that should be snapped up without hesitation, particularly by those who are in the process of collecting this historic cycle.

Copyright © 23 August 2023 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta



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