Langgaard: Symphony No. 1

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Langgaard
LABELS: Da Capo
ALBUM TITLE: Langgaard
WORKS: Symphony No. 1
PERFORMER: Danish National SO/Thomas Dausgaard
CATALOGUE NO: 6.220525

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The Danish composer Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) developed – if that’s quite the word – from a spectacularly talented youngster into one of the most bizarrely inconsistent mavericks in musical history. His hugely ambitious First Symphony, completed at age 17, was deemed unplayable in Copenhagen, then given a triumphant premiere in Berlin. That, together with the Symphony’s extravagantly Wagnerian language, seems to have hardened the Danish critics’ attitude towards him – they’d already given him a rough ride at the age of 14. Unsurprisingly, Langgaard grew up an embittered loner. Hearing the Symphony in this impressive performance under the ever-intelligent Thomas Dausgaard, one can readily understand Langgaard’s frustration. Yes it’s overlong, adolescent in its searing intensity and desperate need to pile climax on climax, but there’s also something movingly pure and noble about it. Langgaard may strive too hard to make his points, and yet he clearly has points to make. There’s some striking material here too: especially the silky first theme of the second movement (‘Mountain Flowers’) and the Mahler-meets-Grieg opening of the third movement (‘Legend’). Neeme Järvi’s Chandos version may be more seductive in parts, but it’s Dausgaard who keeps this gigantic ship securely on course. The recording captures it all, staying just on the right side of overload in the more orgiastic climaxes. Stephen Johnson