Jensen Legacy 14

Thomas Jensen (conductor)
Legacy Volume 14
Holger Gilbert-Jespersen (flute), Wandy Tworek (violin), Carla Henius (soprano)
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Tivoli Concert Hall Orchestra (Nielsen scenes) 
rec. 1942-62
No texts
DANACORD DACOCD924 [79 + 78]

Volume 14 of this long-running series of two-for-one releases brings a swathe of previously unpublished broadcasts of twentieth-century material, interspersed with a couple of commercial Nielsen 78s, one from an LP and the other – extracts from Saul and David – taken from 1942 Tono 78s. The haul of previously unheard items, then, is high and will raise expectations in the gorges of Thomas Jensen’s admirers.  

First is the premiere of Ole Schmidt’s Symphony No.1, composed in 1956 and heard here the following year. Schmidt may well be best-known for his Nielsen symphonic cycle with the LSO but he was also a prolific composer who was especially active in film and TV studios. His symphony is couched in the then dominant three-movement form. It’s a work that balances searing intensity with exceptional introspection, couched in an idiom somewhere – but only somewhere – between Honegger and Hindemith. The terse central movement is percussion-laden and glowering, the finale again Hindemith-like and remorseless, this movement longer than the first two combined. Brassy with prominent winds and fanfares, it sounds like a series of variations – I’ve no score to hand – and there’s a caesura at around the half-way mark, at 7 minutes, where the orchestra briefly retunes. Cleverly orchestrated, it’s played with considerable power and panache here. 

Vagn Holmboe’s Monolith was composed in 1960 and can be heard in this live 1961 broadcast. The premiere had been given nine months earlier by Per Dreier. The work was to form the second panel in Holmboe’s Symphonic Metamorphoses cycle (you can hear the second part, Epitaph, in the fourth volume of this series) and is a suitably taut, powerful eight-minute study.  Gunnar Berg was an exact contemporary of Holmboe and Hymnos, for string orchestra, pre-dates his Darmstadt years, so it’s still diatonic, still approachable, still quietly terse and uneasy. Niels Viggo Bentzon is represented by the Symphonic Variations of 1953, heard in this 1958 live broadcast. Sonically intriguing and heard in fine sound, as is everything here, the theme and ten variations unfold with rigorous logic exuding individuality and grown-up themes. The last item on CD 1 is the 1954 Decca recording of Nielsen’s 1926 Flute Concerto played by Holger Gilbert-Jespersen, a long-time member of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet and the man for whom Nielsen wrote the work. It’s been reissued several times on CD but here it is again (review).

Henze heads CD 2, Nachtstücke und Arien with soprano soloist Carla Henius. Despite the lack of a text, you will be indebted to Danacord for this as it’s a splendid work. It’s exceptionally expressive, excellently orchestrated and paced convincingly. The fourth panel, Aria II, is especially compelling though the final, fifth section begins passionately before subsiding to the embrace of a harpsichord and winds. This, and other performances in this twofer, reinforce Jensen’s catholicity of choice, his openness to new repertoire and actively to promote, especially, the music of his homeland. Not unlike Adrian Boult in London.

Honegger’s Fifth Symphony was taped live in September 1962, about a month and half before Jensen’s unexpectedly early death. This works best when taken at a volatile pace and Jensen springs some surprises in the opening movement at least, which he takes very fast, outstripping even Munch and the Orchestre National de France as well as surpassing Serge Baudo and the Czech Philharmonic, who take a rather more measured and reserved view of that opening Grave indication. Nevertheless, Jensen proves an idiomatic interpreter of a work that was only 12 years old when he directed it. Nielsen’s Saul and David extracts, previously reissued, are with the Tivoli Concert Hall Orchestra not the Danish Radio Symphony (review).  Finally, we hear the only concerto performance, of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto, with Wandy Tworek in 1949. This was cut direct to 78s but is incomplete due to change-overs. About 60 bars have been lost to these turnovers – only one turntable, one assumes, was in use otherwise this would have been avoided. As the notes explain, Tworek also cuts the solo line, omitting 24 bars in total for reasons best known to himself. Tworek’s very fast vibrato and passagework that he takes quickly, and has to slow down to make it work, mean that this is a less than successful reading but I’m glad it was included; posterity will be grateful as it amplifies the range of Jensen’s interests. 

The notes are characteristically extensive, and the transfers have produced fine sounding results. I hope that Jensen Legacy fatigue syndrome has not set in and that eyes have not begun to glaze over as this series continues, as it can still spring surprises and introduce contemporary repertoire that will prove historically valuable and musically satisfying in expert performances.

Jonathan Woolf

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Ole Schmidt (1928-2010)
Symphony No.1, Op.14a (1956)
Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996)
Monolith, Op.76 (1960)
Gunnar Berg (1909-1989)
Hymnos, for string orchestra (1954)
Niels Viggo Bentzon (1919-2000)
Symphonic Variations, Op.92 (1953)
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
Flute Concerto (1926)
Holger Gilbert-Jespersen (flute)
Hans Wener Henze (1926-2012)
Nachtstücke und Arien (1957)
Arthur Honegger (1892-1955)
Symphony No.5 ‘Di tre re’ (1951)
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
Saul and David: Prelude to Act 2 (1898-1901)
The Mother: Prelude to Scene 7 (1920)
Cockerel’s Dance (Hanedans) (1904-06)
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No.2 (incomplete)
Wandy Tworek (violin)