Rued Langgaard

Friday, April 8, 2022

Barbican Hall, London

In a concert that included Nicola Benedetti playing Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto (in which the composer incorporates some of his wonderful Hollywood movie themes) – this rather languorous performance found her a little thin-toned in the highest register if affectionate with the music, nicely intimate in the slow movement, and spirited, without rushing, in the Finale, enjoying a smart and detailed accompaniment (incidentally the BBCSO’s leader, Stephen Bryant, also plays this Concerto; some years ago there was an excellent broadcast recording of it with Andrew Litton conducting) – it was nevertheless the concert’s other work that was the main interest, especially as, for me, it’s new. (Beforehand, Benedetti had offered a gypsy-tango-like encore, with orchestra; a very familiar tune, but I’d be on my Gade to name it.)

So, it was Rued Langgaard’s First Symphony (‘Klippepastoraler’; Mountain Pastorals; completed in 1911, Langgaard still a teenager) that then came into aural view, an expansive romantic work (fifty-six minutes here) in five movements (the outer ones being the longest) scored for large orchestra, music full of scenic description, melody and embrace; plenty of thrills and colour, too, and not forgetting whopping climaxes, inviting correspondences with Richard Strauss (his Alpine Symphony was a few years away), Schreker, Pfitzner and Zemlinsky.

Langgaard (1893-1952), for long an obscure composer if remaining a prolific one (there are sixteen varied Symphonies, all now recorded) even when he became something of an outcast in his native Denmark (this Symphony was premiered in Berlin). The twenty-minute first movement is terrific, the second one (strings and horns) quite lovely, suggesting Scriabin’s Piano Concerto and indeed his First Symphony. The third movement, also slow, is dark and mysterious, while the fourth is robust and ceremonial, and the Finale strives, and pauses, involves complex counterpoint, and paints pictures of stormy elements being battled, en route to an opulent conclusion, calling for extra brass.

A real discovery, then, in this splendid performance. I wonder if Chandos will be recording this ambitious and worthwhile opus? Hope so; keen to hear it again.

Just announced: Sakari Oramo’s BBCSO contract has been extended – until summer 2026.