Thomas Jensen Legacy Volume 17. © 2023 Danacord Records


Denmark's Greatest Conductor?

GERALD FENECH delves into more volumes of Danacord's 'Thomas Jensen Legacy' series

'Strongly recommended.'


Maybe the greatest conductor in Denmark's musical history, Thomas Jensen (1898-1963) is renowned as an interpreter of Scandinavian composers. But this impression has obscured Jensen's excellence as a conductor of the central European classics, such as the programme on this issue. This collection of newly remastered recordings, most of them issued for the first time since their original broadcasts, showcases Jensen's authority, immaculate precision and forthright pulse to bear on Haydn's sprightly 'London' Symphony (No 104) and Beethoven's two contrasting symphonies (Nos 4 and 6).

Listen — Beethoven: Allegro ma non troppo (Symphony No 4)
(DACOCD 927 CD1 track 4, 0:00-1:00) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

The Brahms Violin Concerto interpreted by the legendary Isaac Stern is simply irresistible, thanks also to Jensen's passionate support of the soloist. Born in Ukraine, Stern moved to the US when he was only fourteen months old. He performed both nationally and internationally, notably touring the Soviet Union and China, and performing extensively in Israel, a country he had close ties with since shortly after its founding. Stern's playing mesmerized audiences the world over and he soon came to be considered as the world's leading violinist. Stern received extensive recognition for his work, winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom and six Grammy Awards and also being named to the French Legion of Honour. The Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall bears his name due to his role in saving the venue from demolition in the 1960s.

Brahms' Concerto, dedicated to his friend and mentor Joseph Joachim, is full of power, lyricism, drama and virtuosity, and Stern brings all these elements out with prodigious emotion and a depth of feeling that sweeps the listener into the realms of unbridled sensitivity.

Listen — Brahms: Adagio (Violin Concerto)
(DACOCD 927 CD2 track 7, 2:29-3:16) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

The excellent sound quality from the 1950s and 1960s is incidentally very good which, added to the fact that this is the first release of the Brahms Concerto performed by Isaac Stern to come out of Copenhagen in 1961, gives this issue a strong element of historicity. Strongly recommended.


Thomas Jensen Legacy, Volume 18. © 2023 Danacord Records

Thomas Jensen made his recording debut in 1937 with lighter music by Knudåge Riisager. From 1937 to 1943 Jensen recorded over sixty sides of music for HMV, Odeon and Tono. In Aarhus he recorded works by Kuhlau, Tarp, Elgar, Massenet, Debussy, Tchaikovsky and Smetana. His first Nielsen recordings date from 1941, and many of Jensen's classical pieces were inspired from the greats before him such as Mozart and his beloved Beethoven. Indeed, this great conductor loved making music for posterity, and this cycle of his recorded legacy is a veritable treasure-chest of unforgettable performances.

This particular Volume 18 is dedicated to some of the most popular compositions by Brahms, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. Jensen treats Brahms' Tragic Overture with true gusto while his approach to the Schicksalslied, Alto Rhapsody and the Haydn Variations is perfectly paced, allowing the music to sound more serene than it really is.

Listen — Brahms: Variations on the St Anthony Chorale
(DACOCD 928 CD1 track 4, 12:53-13:43) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

His great attention to detail is very evident in Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto; indeed, the enormous effort Jensen put in unfailingly ensures that the listener heard everything that the music has to offer.

I have a hunch that this conductor was hopelessly enamoured with Tchaikovsky, as is yours truly after all. In the 1812 Overture Jensen cleverly avoids all the bombast wholly associated with this piece but all the emotional drama of the score is brought out with convincing realism.

Listen — Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture
(DACOCD 928 CD2 track 12, 10:42-11:32) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

The Nutcracker Suite is lavished with an enchanting aura that captivates from start to finish, while the Waltz from the Serenade for Strings and the Andante Cantabile from Symphony No 5 are given serenely compelling renditions, where all the enticing melodies can make their mark with startling clarity.

With the exception of the two Tchaikovsky excerpts, which were recorded in the studio in 1945, all the remainder of the programme was recorded from live broadcasts between 1961 and 1963, but this should not deter prospective buyers, as sound quality is more than acceptable. An exhilarating issue that further enriches this ongoing cycle. Do give yourself a chance to enjoy it.


Thomas Jensen Legacy, Volume 19. © 2023 Danacord Records

With Volume 19 in this cycle we find the great conductor on home soil, with the focus being mainly on Jensen's favourite composer: Carl Nielsen. Nielsen wrote a substantial number of innovative pieces, but he remains mainly in the repertoire through his six symphonies, all so different one from the other, and a journey from tonality to atonality. The first part of this volume includes four major works but none of the symphonies: The Flute Concerto (1926), the Violin Concerto (1911), the symphonic poem Saga-Drøm (1907) and the cantata Hymnus Amoris (1896-97).

Listen — Nielsen: Hymnus Amoris
(DACOCD 929 CD1 track 6, 10:09-11:01) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

Each work has its own distinctive language, but the music is so original and descriptive that surprises crop up at every corner.

The second part of the album is dedicated to five Danish composers who were all but one contemporaries of Nielsen, but whose music was overshadowed by that of the great man: J F Frøhlich (1806-1860), J P E Hartmann (1805-1900), Ejnar Jacobsen (1897-1970), Svend Erik Tarp (1908-1994) and Poul Schierbeck (1888-1949).

Incidentally, Nielsen also makes his presence felt in this second part of the collection with excerpts from his opera Maskarade.

Maybe many are not familiar with the music of the latter five but there is much to enjoy, especially with Frohlich and Hartmann's pieces. Jacobsen's Symphony No 1, dubbed Now, was written in 1945 just after the Second World War, and the language is unmistakably dark for long stretches but the light of hope does break through here and there.

Listen — Ejnar Jacobsen: Lento semplice (Symphony No 1, 'Now')
(DACOCD 929 CD2 track 8, 0:00-0:57) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

Tarp and Schierbeck are sons of the twentieth century so their soundworld is more akin to say Hindemith or Schreker. Still, these are superbly crafted works full of imaginative orchestration and harmonic ingenuity.

Baring Nielsen's Maskarade excerpts, which were recorded in the studio in 1954, these exhilarating works were all taken from live broadcasts between 1958 and 1962. Another historic musical document in this unique project which I recommend wholeheartedly.


Thomas Jensen Legacy, Volume 20. © 2023 Danacord Records

There was no more unprejudiced or enthusiastic promoter of Danish music than this humble giant of a conductor, and this is all so evident in the programme of this double album. Twelve composers are featured here, in styles ranging from Romantic ballet to modernist oratorio, and although their names may be completely unknown, their music is so wonderfully diverse, exciting and colourful that it deserves to be more recognized and performed.

Listen — Erling Brene: Præludium (Viola Concerto)
(DACOCD 930 CD2 track 5, 0:00-0:36) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

Now, thanks to the Danish label Danacord and, of course, Jensen's overwhelming enthusiasm for the music of his fellow countrymen, we can now judge what we have been missing for years on end. But, maybe you are asking, who are these 'hidden dozen'? Well, here they are: Friedrich Kuhlau (1786-1832), Niels W Gade (1817-1890), J P E Hartmann (1805-1900), P E Lange-Müller (1850-1926), Knudåge Riisager (1897-1974), Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996), Svend Erik Tarp (1908-1994), Knud Høgenhaven (1928-1987), Jørgen Jersild (1913-2004), Emil Reesen (1887-1964), Erling Brene (1896-1980) and Fleming Weis (1898-1981).

This is a glorious string of musical pearls that we can now relish and enjoy after decades of oblivion and neglect. I have already reviewed some eleven volumes in this series, but this No 20 is for me the most revealing, and if you want to start collecting this series here is the best place to start. Then the rest can follow. Nearly all the recordings are issued for the first time ever since they were originally broadcast between 1957 and 1962 and, taken together, they present a panoramic picture of Danish music in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Listen — Vagn Holmboe: Presto (Symphony No 13)
(DACOCD 930 CD1 track 13, 6:23-7:20) ℗ 2023 Danacord Records :

Due to space constraints, I can't pass on any detailed information but the booklet should be up to expectations, so read before you listen. Danish music is not only Carl Nielsen but much much more: I leave that for you to find out.

Copyright © 20 May 2024 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta



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