Dacapo 6.220526 coverRomantic Trombone Concertos
Jesper Juul, trombone; Danish National Symphony Orchestra/DR, Thomas Dausgaard, Henrik Vagn Christensen, conductors. Dacapo 6.220526

If American children aspire to pick up a guitar, Danish children must aspire to pick up the trombone, judging by the amount of repertoire the place has produced. The best-known piece on this collection, Launy Grí¸ndahl’s 1924 Concerto, has achieved warhorse status, and deservedly so: rugged, somber Romanticism in the grand manner, with a noble solo line that exploits every inch of the instrument. (This recording is advertised as the first of Grí¸ndahl’s original orchestration, before the famous soloist Palmer Traulsen bulked up the score with added doublings.)

The find here is the op. 52 Concerto of Vagn Holmboe, dating from 1950, a fizzy neo-classical machine that only runs out of steam in the final movement. Axel Jí¸rgensen’s 1916 Romance is an unassumingly beautiful little aria; the same composer’s three-part Suite is more imposing but also more fussy. The only living composer on the program, Sí¸ren Hyldgaard, proudly advertises his film-scoring pedigree in every bar of his 2005 Concerto Borealis: the first movement, all mixed-meter string ostinatos and leaping fourths, sounds like the Danish evening news, while the Spielbergian slow movement dispenses its big tune readily and often. The finale is a heroic cue in search of an exploding Death Star.

Trombonist Jesper Juul has marvelous technique””I don’t think it’s possible to play the instrument any cleaner””but one gets the sense that the precise control comes at the expense of some drama and ebullience. The refinement of the sound never flags, but I missed any sense of risk, brashness, even vulgarity: it is a trombone, after all.

naxos 8.557612 coverAlfvén: Symphony no. 5; Andante religioso
Norrkōping Symphony Orchestra, Niklas Willén, conductor. Naxos 8.557612

The Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén’s massive Fifth Symphony was premiered in 1953 (after which the composer tinkered with it for another five years), but could easily date from fifty years earlier: this is big, extroverted late Romanticism on an expansive canvas. Based on materials from Alfvén’s 1923 ballet The Mountain King, the symphony for the most part eschews arching melodies in favor of tight themes that aren’t much more than motives; Alfvén nevertheless sustains the drama with harmony and orchestration. If the composer is a bit too literal with traditional forms””the arresting, rattling-xylophone danse macabre of the third-movement scherzo comes around one too many times, and the full exposition repeat in the finale seems unnecessary””it’s still a remarkably taut 54 minutes. The performance is excellent: confident, energetic, and interpretively solid. (The serene Andante religioso tacked onto the disc is lost in the undertow of the main event.)

Dacapo 8.226031 coverEmil Reesen: Orchestral Works
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, Bo Holten, conductor. Dacapo 8.226031

The composer Emil Reesen (1887-1964) was also an operetta and revue conductor, a songwriter, and an orchestrator par excellence“”he rather sounds like a Danish Robert Russell Bennett. This exquisitely-played collection makes the mistake of trying to establish his credentials as a serious composer: a set of Brahmsian Variations on a theme of Schubert and Trianon, a suite “in olden style,” are well-crafted and forgettable, while two lovely Danish folk-song harmonizations seem impersonal, as if Reesen is trying on different (mostly Russian) compositional styles for fun. But the “light music” selections are terrific. Reesen’s little Polkina (recycled for a ballet in which the Judgement of Paris is transplanted to a Chicago dance competition) is a bumptious sparkler, in which Teutonic and Gallic influences farcically jostle; a suite of dances from his Argentinian-cowboy ballet Gaucho is Hollywood-ready fun, right down to the geographically inappropriate “Mexican Hat Dance” quotation. I found myself wishing that the album had instead been filled up with these allegedly more ephemeral creations: Reesen had a real flair for a kind of music that’s nowhere near as easy as it seems.

2 Responses to “The Kalmar Union, in CD form”
  1. Just visited the Castle of Kalmar today. It still stands. The Kalmar Union don’t!
    We’ve bred a couple of good composers though: check out Henrik Strindberg, Lars Ekström, Tommie Haglund and Johan Hammerth!

  2. JS says:

    >> I don’t think it’s possible to play the instrument any cleaner—but one
    >> gets the sense that the precise control comes at the expense of some
    >> drama and ebullience.

    Well put! And I don’t think it’s just Mr. Juul. Whenever I hear a really “technical” trombonist, I’m always left a little cold – I’m thoroughly impressed that they *can* play the flight of the bumblebee, but I’m not quite convinced that they *should*.

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