Here are the hugely attractive First Symphonies of two fascinating Scandinavian composers who died in 1952, without becoming international celebrities -- and consistently contending with misunderstandings of one kind or another.
Denmarks Rued Langgaard, always regarded as an outsider, composed his First Symphony ("Mountain Pastorals") at age 17 (six or seven years before the mature Strauss composed his similarly motivated Alpensinfonie) and couldnt get it performed at home, even after its successful premiere by the Berlin Philharmonic under Max Fiedler. Its five movements add up to a full hour; Bruckner, Wagner and Tchaikovsky were clearly models, but the work is in no sense merely imitative. Already as a teenager, Langgaard had ideas of his own and a sure hand in writing for a big orchestra.
The Norwegian Fartein Valen, six years older than Langgaard, composed his own First at 52. His problem was not a matter of acceptance, but of his failure to fill in a huge number of blanks in his various scores. Christian Eggen, who conducts here, has undertaken to clarify this situation; the seams dont show, and this program, labeled Vol. 1, should create an appetite for what is to follow. The concise Symphonys relatively modest proportions leave room for three brief earlier pieces and the one-movement Violin Concerto, which, like the slightly earlier and more expansive one by Alban Berg, was a response to the death of a child and incorporates a Bach chorale.
Everything about both releases is top-drawer. The performances blaze with conviction, the sound is demonstration quality, and the annotations -- by the Langgaard authority Bendt Viinholt Nielsen on Dacapo, by Eggen himself on BIS -- are exceptional in terms of both comprehensiveness and readability.
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