HAMERIK: Choral-Symphony 7; Requiem. Randi Stene, mezzo-soprano; Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir/Thomas Dausgaard. Dacapo 8.226033 79 minutes
It is normally a fool’s errand to analyze the work of an artist through his biography. Or worse, it’s shallow. But it the case of Danish composer Asger Hamerik (1843-1923) the facts that he studied with Berlioz, was a contemporary of Gustav Mahler, and lived in the United States for much of his career illuminate a great deal about his music.
At least the two pieces on this disc. The Choral-Symphony (his Seventh, Op. 40, 1906) has much in common with Mahler’s symphonies besides the use of a chorus. The composer’s text concerns life, death, and resurrection. Hamerik composes melodies with a folk quality to them in addition to melodies with a more “classical” sound. Many of them have a distinctly American sound. The work is cyclical, with the slow theme that opens the symphony appearing near the end in a new guise. Also like many of Mahler’s symphonies, the Choral-Symphony is not in four movements (it’s in three) and has a “progressive” tonality; it begins in d minor and ends triumphantly in C Major.
Hamerik’s music is not an echo of Mahler’s, however. His harmony is fresh, personal, and convincing. His study under Berlioz left him with a rhythmic style more French than German, and his use of syncopation is distinctive. His mastery of tonal architecture is thorough, and his climaxes are satisfying. This symphony is well worth hearing and performing.
Hamerik’s Requiem (1886-87) is in the tradition of his teacher’s. It is dramatic and symphonic. Like the Symphony, it’s theme’s are clearly constructed, memorable, and often folk-influenced. There is a striking fanfaree motive that recurs throughout the “Dies Irae” and in the “Sanctus” that holds the piece together. Like Berlioz’ and Mozart’s Requiem masses, the opening music returns at the end with the repetition of the text. It works beautifully here as an organic part of Hamerik’s style.
The performances are very good indeed, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir, under Thomas Dausgaard perform with passion and commitment. Mezzo Randi Stene solos in both pieces and has a clear, warm voice. Dacapo’s sound is quite good; everything sounds clear and with a natural presence.