Herman D Koppel, composer and pianist: Moses; Songs; Pieces for the piano. © 2023 Danacord


A Real Treat

GEOFF PEARCE listens to music by Herman D Koppel

'... full of interest, and it showcases the considerable talents of the Koppel family and associated artists.'


I was not familiar with the Danish composer Herman D Koppel (1908-1998), but I had heard of him and am certainly familiar with his daughter Lone Koppel who performed with the Australian Opera for a number of years. I played in the orchestra for a production of Jenufa back in the 1970s in which she starred in the title role. Her on-stage presence was spellbinding and her singing was sumptuous. It was very interesting to hear her in in her father's work Moses which was completed in 1964. This recording was made the following year.

I received this for review as an online version and all the tracks between the two CDs were sort of mixed up, making listening and selecting less than ideal for reviewing purposes.

Moses Op 76 is one of the composer's most successful works. The cast of this premier recording from 1965 is as follows:

Lone Koppel, soprano solo
Willy Hartmann, narrator
Kurt Westi, Angel of the Lord
Hans Christian Andersen, Abraham
Frans Andersson, Moses
Gurli Plesner, Mirjam
Mogens Schmidt Johansen, Josua
DR Symphony Orchestra
Danish National Radio Choir
Miltiades Caridis, conductor

The style reminds me a little of Hans Werner Henze, and the work is divided into six sections in two parts. Moses is not actually introduced until the third part, and the two parts prior to this deal with things like the creation and then the fall of man. An included libretto would help, but all I have to go on is the title of each section or subsection.

Each subsection is quite brief, lasting generally about 2-3 minutes, although sometimes shorter or a bit longer. Right from the rather gloomy and nebulous opening, this work captivates and holds my attention. The choral forces, soloists and orchestra are very fine and I am happy with the recorded sound, although compared to what one listens to today, the overall sound is perhaps a little dry. Whilst the composing style is certainly twentieth century, there are passages that feel if they have drawn their inspiration from antiquity. This is a most intriguing work which does not reveal its charms immediately. There are stormy and dramatic moments, and others where the music is almost meditative and thoughtful.

Listen — Herman D Koppel: Soprano solo (Moses, part one)
(DACOCD 573-574 CD1 track 5, 1:19-2:03) ℗ 2023 Danacord :

Two Songs on poems by Ole Wivel Op 75 (1962), are dedicated to Lone. They depict two girls, one black and the other Jewish. Performed by Vibeke Kristensen, soprano and Irene Hasager Johansen, piano, they are full of character, last between three and four minutes and encompass a variety of moods. Herman D Koppel reveals himself as a man who understands the voice, and as a pianist himself, writes very effectively.

Listen — Herman D Koppel: Sort ung pige (Two Songs on poems by Ole Wivel)
(DACOCD 573-574 CD1 track 24, 1:22-2:17) ℗ 2023 Danacord :

Two Songs on poems by Robert Browning and Walter de la Mare, Op 108 (1982), are dedicated to Lone and Björn and performed by Thomas Peter Koppel, tenor - the composer's grandson - and Irene Hasager Johansen, piano. The first is the passion of a night rendezvous, and the second, a tribute to music.

The second CD opens with Gammel Dans (Old Dance) from 1924 and has Christina Bjørkøe at the piano. This brief early work was performed as part of the composer's examination for entry into the Royal Academy of Music in the presence of Carl Nielsen. It is a simple piece which is quite childlike.

This is followed by Årstiderne (The Seasons), Op 65 (1957) on poems by Thøger Larsen, Viggo Stuckenberg, Johannes Jørgensen and L C Nielsen. This is performed here by Jonathan Koppel, tenor - a great grandson of the composer, and Irene Hasager Johansen, piano. This is a set of seven short songs with descriptive titles which are relevant to the four seasons. These songs are beautifully performed and remind me a little of early twentieth century French songs. There is much pleasure to be gained by listening to these.

Listen — Herman D Koppel: Destruction (Årstiderne)
(DACOCD 573-574 CD2 track 5, 0:00-0:41) ℗ 2023 Danacord :

50 Short Pieces for the Piano, Dedicated to my grandchildren, Op 99 (1977), are mostly about thirty seconds long each, although a couple of them have durations over a minute. They are performed by Christina Bjørkøe, piano, with the introductions spoken by Lone Koppel and Thomas Peter Koppel. They are charming little pieces, full of character, technically not difficult and would have provided much enjoyment to the composer's grandchildren.

Listen — Herman D Koppel: Klagesang (50 Short Pieces for the Piano)
(DACOCD 573-574 CD2 track 11, 0:00-0:11) ℗ 2023 Danacord :

The beautiful and traditional Solhvervssang (Solstice Song, 1949) has text by Johannes V Jensen, and is dedicated to Aksel Schiøtz. It is performed by Jonathan Koppel, tenor, Irene Hasager Johansen, piano and Allan Sjølin, guitar.

Listen — Herman D Koppel: Solhvervssang
(DACOCD 573-574 CD2 track 59, 1:03-1:47) ℗ 2023 Danacord :

Ørkenhyrden (The Desert Shepherd) from the album Valmuevejen (Poppy Road, 1975) is a charming, simple ballad with text by Anders Koppel. It is performed here by tenor Thomas Peter Koppel and Allan Sjølin, guitar.

Listen — Herman D Koppel: Ørkenhyrden (Valmuevejen)
(DACOCD 573-574 CD2 track 60, 0:00-0:52) ℗ 2023 Danacord :

The rather wistful The Spinning Song was used in the 1946 film Ditte Menneskebarn (Ditte, Child of Man). This recording features Vibeke Kristensen, soprano and Allan Sjølin, guitar.

Listen — Herman D Koppel: Spindevise (Ditte Menneskebarn)
(DACOCD 573-574 CD2 track 61, 2:22-3:10) ℗ 2023 Danacord :

Sangen om Larsen (Song about a man called Larsen) is from a play called The melody that disappeared and was written in 1935. It is performed here by Thomas Peter Koppel, tenor and Allan Sjølin, guitar. I could imagine this being performed in a cabaret or café. It is a real treat.

Listen — Herman D Koppel: Sangen om Larsen (Melodien der blev væk)
(DACOCD 573-574 CD2 track 62, 1:03-2:02) ℗ 2023 Danacord :

Lille Digter Skrøne (Little Poet Tale) was written in 1936, approximately, and this recording features Thomas Peter Koppel, tenor and Lone Koppel, piano. It is a rather sad little ditty and ends abruptly.

The final song on this album is Aftensang (Evening Song) from 1944 and features Vibeke Kristensen, soprano with Irene Hasager Johansen, piano. It is affectionate, tender and, I think, quite a fitting work to end this album.

This is an interesting album and all songs and piano pieces were recorded at The Village Recording in June 2023. It is a pity that the texts for the songs and Moses were not supplied as it is impossible otherwise to understand what is going on, but nevertheless the music is full of interest, and it showcases the considerable talents of the Koppel family and associated artists. I would certainly like to hear more of this composer who wrote quite a substantial amount of music over his long life, and is highly regarded in Denmark, his home country.

Copyright © 16 November 2023 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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