Mystically inclined, fabulously prolific and wildly uneven, Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) wrote some of Denmark's greatest music, and some of its oddest. The visionary Music of the Spheres (1916-18)- less a cantata than a cosmic tone poem for two orchestras with brief contributions from soprano and chorus — is by any measure an astonishing achievement. Langgaard called it a 'fantasy of life and death'.
Performed in the early Twenties and forgotten for half a century, its unique soundscape fills heights and depths with static textures, tone-clusters, hypnotic repetitions. With spatial separation of orchestras and Cowell-like piano string glissandos, the work parallels Charles Ives and anticipates Messiaen, 'holy minimalism', Tavener, even Ligeti (as Ligeti has acknowledged) — yet all within an ultra-Romantic tonal language. Langgaard handles his huge forces with almost ascetic restraint, up to the apocalyptic confrontation at the end.
This finely recorded Chandos version unveils the full sonic splendour of Langgaard's ecstatic inspiration. Though ideally the second orchestra should sound more distant, there's no doubt of the work's utter originality. Contemporary with Music of the Spheres, the attractive song cycle Four Tone Pictures discloses only fleeting points of contact. Its pastoral lyricism is firmly late-Romantic, linking Langgaard to Delius, Grieg and Zemlinsky. Gitta-Maria Sjoberg is a sumptuous soloist. Calum MacDonald