RUED LANGGAARD (1893-1952): Symphony No. 1 "Klippepastoraler". Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Sakari Oramo.
Catalogue Number: 11Y002
Description: Langgaard's astonishing, hour-long, five-movement ultra-romantic First Symphony, begun when he was 14 and completed in his 17th year, has had some distinguished outings on disc since its "rediscovery" in 2004, but this superb new recording is essential for two historical reasons, in addition to its intrinsic merits. First, it presents the world première of the 2010 critical edition, and second, it is played by the Berlin Philharmonic, the orchestra that finally undertook the gargantuan task of premiering the work in 1913 after multiple disappointments based on its alleged unplayability and suspiciously German sensibility in the composer’s native Denmark, and in Sweden. That concert, and the tumultuous success achieved by this colossal work, should have marked the eruption onto the international music scene of the prodigiously gifted young composer; instead, it was the summit of his public career, which immediately declined precipitously. After the First World War, changing tastes meant that he was hopelessly out of fashion, and he was driven increasingly into reactionary isolation - though thankfully his indomitable genius enabled him to carry on producing a large body of superb music. The symphony bears a Romantic programme, symbolically describing a mountain ascent from the roaring, turbulent surf at the foot of the cliffs below, and ending at the summit. The title, "Cliffside Pastorals", refers to the mountainous peninsula Kullen, in southern Sweden, with which Langgaard had been familiar since childhood. Characteristically, the composer imbued the programme with religious symbolism. According to Langgaard, the music represents mankind’s spiritual development, the mountainous rocks and the raging sea obstacles to the soul’s ascent to spiritual fulfilment. This quintessentially Romantic trajectory is expressed in music that is the epitome of the grand Romantic ideal. Its idiom is most succinctly described as Wagnerian, especially in the outer movements, and it uncannily anticipates Strauss' Alpine Symphony (which was premiered two years after Langgaard's symphony), not least in its astonishingly full and effective orchestration. The huge first movement is craggy and tempestuous, and Langgaard’s handling of the large-scale form and the huge orchestral forces is nothing short of astonishing. In the second movement we pass through mountain pastures, in pure nature-music, and here Langgaard’s models seem to include Mahler and Bruckner. The appearance of horn calls through the valleys in a pastoral landscape immediately suggests the Wunderhorn world of "What the Flowers in the Meadow Told Me"; for the most part, though, the movement’s serene, elevated mood and sense of imposing scale are very Brucknerian. Two shorter movements follow; the first, "Legend" acts as a kind of intermezzo at the symphony’s mid-point, and evokes the myths and folk tales that often surround natural monuments of mysterious beauty and grandeur. It follows its own dramatic arc, rising from mysterious beginnings to an heroic climax and receding again into the mists of folklore. The composer dismisses these fanciful reveries in the fourth movement, "Mountain Ascent" which strides purposefully forward and upward with rugged determination. Langgaard pours everything into the massive finale, which surges forward with inexorable momentum toward the apotheosis of the triumphant Romantic climax, combining the themes of the first and final movements in a final blazingly glorious vision of an eternal sunrise.