Hermann D. KOPPEL (1908-1998)
Symphony No. 6, Op. 63 Sinfonia breve (1957)
Symphony No. 7, Op. 70 (1960 - 61)
Concerto for Orchestra, Op. 101 (1977 - 78)
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Moshe Atzmon
recorded at Symphonien, Aarlborg, Denmark on 30/8 - 4/9/1999.
DACAPO 8.224135 [74.19]
Judging by its title (Orchestral Works Vol. 1) there will be more works by
this composer issued, presumable dependant upon how this current issue sells
in the marketplace. I sincerely hope that there are more as I have enjoyed
this disc immensely.
Herman D. (David) Koppel (1908 - 1998) was a very well known musical personality
in Denmark. He was a hardworking composer, pianist, teacher and "patriarch
of a musical dynasty that has become a Danish counterpart of the Bach family
in Germany" - the words of the sleeve note, not mine.
Koppel's family originally lived in Poland, moving to Denmark in 1907. At
the occupation of Denmark in 1943, Koppel, his wife and two young children
moved to neutral Sweden to remove themselves from the persecution of the
Jews by the Nazis. Returning after the war his musical output changed somewhat,
with an emphasis on vocal and choral works, many of which were settings of
Old Testament texts.
What we have on this disc is Koppel's last two symphonies and the even later
Concerto for Orchestra. Koppel was the last modern Danish composer who was
greatly influenced by Carl Nielsen, and in his younger days he used to play
Nielsen's piano works for the composer. Nielsen would look over the young
composer's early works and give him help. The orchestration and overall sound
of these symphonies are somewhat similar to those of the earlier master,
but I would in no way compare them to Nielsen's output.
Koppel's seven symphonies were written between 1930 to 1961, these last two
having completion dates of 1957 and 1961. The Concerto for Orchestra is much
later, having been completed in 1978.
Symphony No. 6 is written in the unusual format of 5 movements, the
first of which lasts almost as long as all the remainder put together. The
writing is primarily tonal as was prevalent in Denmark at the time, and none
the worse for this. Certain themes, particularly as heard in the second movement
could almost have been written by Nielsen, but their treatment is quite
different. I found influences of Bartók, Shostakovich and Nielsen
all swirling around, and this is not in any way distracting. What distinguishes
this work from those of the other composers mentioned is that it does not
have a clear individual voice, but this may develop for me with further hearing
of other works of this composer.
The 7th Symphony was commissioned by the Royal Danish Orchestra
and was conducted by Leopold Ludwig. It is in three movements, and this time
all are about the same duration. It starts with a slow first movement, followed
by a Scherzo, and completed by an Allegro con brio. This symphony shows the
composer to be at the height of his powers, although the much later Concerto
for Orchestra is just as fine. Again, though, not a clear individual voice,
but a conglomeration of other composers. Nevertheless these two symphonies
are well worth hearing and have been most enjoyable.
The Concerto for Orchestra is a very fine work. Written for the Aarhus
Orchestra on the occasion of the composer's 70th birthday this
concerto is somewhat like a concerto grosso, where the various sections of
the orchestra play against one another. These groups are: woodwind, brass,
percussion, strings and a further group made up of piano, celesta and harp.
It is very strange that these works have not been widely performed, even
in the composer's home country, and it is to be hoped that they will achieve
more popularity from these recordings.
Dacapo have provided very comprehensive notes, and the recording is of very
high quality - very like a top of the line BBC sound. The playing, although
the works were unfamiliar, seems to be first rate, and this issue certainly
gives the composer the highest level of advocacy. Roll on Volume 2.
Rob Barnett adds:
The Koppel family's roots are Jewish with the Koppels arriving in Denmark
from Poland with many other east European Jews at just the same time as many
Danes were emigrating to the USA. Koppel was the last Danish composer to
take his cue from Nielsen. Indeed Koppel played all the Nielsen piano music.
After the death of Nielsen in 1931 Stravinsky, Bartók and jazz became
stronger influences interacting with his earlier more romantic proclivities.
Koppel was a world class pianist and there are private radio recordings of
Koppel playing his first, third and fourth piano concertos.
There were seven symphonies written between 1930 and 1961 but the composer
withdrew the first two in 1943. The Third is from the depths of the world
war - written during the Nazi Occupation. Number 5 was completed in 1946
and is a determinedly serious piece.
The Sixth Symphony has many Nielsen-like touches e.g. the chipper
woodwind writing, carolling French horns and rushing strings (tracks 4 and
5). The edginess of the writing can be put down to Bartók though,
unprompted, I would have guessed at a Bergian influence. Robert Simpson is
also to be heard though Koppel presumably influenced him rather than the
other way around. Prokofiev is also to be heard in Tempo I (track 5) as well
as a return to the cheeky dancing convulsions at the end of the work.
The Sixth is all over in just over a quarter of an hour. The truculent
Seventh Symphony is lasts more than twice as long. It is a work of
gawky incident. Lines and linkages are not easily traceable. The old Koppel
- the Nielsen acolyte - is to be heard in the tender woodwind writing at
3.02 in the first movement. The work is heavy with oppressive ambience. The
Scherzo recalls Malcolm Arnold rather vividly (Arnold symphonies 5 and 6).
Koppel shows a darkling humour with a Beethovenian glint in his eyes. The
last movement allegro is has a dyspeptic clarinet theme developing into some
dissolute uproarious 'galloping' with side drum and brash horns at close
quarters with Shostakovich. I thought the work began to meander in the long
finale though pulling itself together for the final convulsions.
Leaving symphonies behind him in 1961, Koppel proceeded down the route of
concertante music. The Concerto for Orchestra is a late work. commissioned
by the Aarhus orchestra. Its busily rippling textures flow and melt together
like late Tippett moving with the pace of a giant ice floe on a swollen river.
The great long lyrical line dips, curls, swirls - reminiscent of
Martinö in the Fourth
Symphony. Thudding Stravinskianisms in the allegro are dissipated by the
tender adagio. This returns to the long lines of the vivace first movement
and a dawn that is part Ravel-part Panufnik. The jerky exhilaration of the
allegro reasserts itself in the finale. The Concerto is a work that would
make many new friends if given its chance.
Moshe Atzmon and the Aalborg Orchestra seem fluent and are excellent at the
spinning of lyrical lines though I wondered if more verve should have been
channelled into the finale of the Concerto for Orchestra. Documentation first
class as is recording quality.
Watch for the next issue. I rather hope we will be getting a set of the piano
concertos to go with the symphony cycle.