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Hakon BØRRESEN (1876-1954)
Den kongelige gaest (The Royal Guest) - opera in one act (1919) [79:20]
Comedy to music in one act - Libretto by Svend Leopold after Henrik Pontopiddan’s short story
Stig Fogh Andersen, tenor ... Arnold Høyer
Tina Kiberg, soprano ... Emmy, his wife
Edith Guillaume, alto ... Ane, the Høyers’ maid
Lise-Lotte Nielsen, soprano ... the servant girl
Guido Paevatalu, baritone ... the guest
Odense Symphony Orchestra/Tamás Vetö
Recorded at Odense Concert Hall on 10-13 and 16-17 June 2003
With the financial support of Komponist Hakon Børresen og hustru Nanna Børresen, født Berg’s legat
Rec. Odense Concert Hall, 10-13, 16-17 June 2004. DDD
DACAPO 8.226020 [79:20]

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Børresen, though born in Copenhagen, had Norwegian blood. His pupillage was with the Norwegian Johann Svendsen who was living in the Danish capital at the time. Børresen was not a prolific writer and his style is indebted to the likes of Grieg, Gade, J.P.E. Hartmann and Lange-Muller rather than to more revolutionary models.

The three symphonies and his Tchaikovskian violin concerto have all been recorded on Dacapo, CPO and Danacord.

His Den kongelige gaest starts with a sumptuous Straussian overture. Sumptuous ... yes but not as over-upholstered as say Szymanowski’s early and completely over-the-top Concert Overture. The atmosphere is light, flighty, excitable, romantic - nothing of extreme tragedy is in the air. While there is some shade of threat to the proper ordering of things in scene 6 nothing approaches torment or fury. Anger and worry are in the air but not spleen or fear.

This emotional range can be contrasted with the little I know of Børresen’s other stage work, Kaddara. Thus Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt is to The Ring of Polykrates; as Nielsen’s Saul and David is to Maskarade so is Kaddara to Den kongelige gaest. The full length grand opera Kaddara is set in Greenland among its native people. It is a work of high tragedy and an early voyage to the Danish recording studios of Dacapo is to be fervently wished. Lauritz Melchior’s recording of the magnificent Ujarak's Farewell from Kaddara bodes well.

The plot of Den kongelige gaest is set in the home of a doctor in Jutland, circa 1900. The marriage of Dr Arnold Høyer and Emmy took place two years ago. Things are now comfortable and settling into an amiable but not passionate routine. They are having guests from Copenhagen but then hear that they are not coming. A stranger turns up instead. He is welcomed and turns out to be charming, talkative and musical. This Royal Guest decides to bring out the true spirit of everyone in the house. Everyone dons festival dress and sit down around the table to eat. There is flirtatious talk and the Guest fantasises about the mythological creatures of love. The Guest steps over the line in making up to Emmy and is upbraided by Høyer. The Guest leaves but not before encouraging the couple to let joy back into their lives. Høyer is having nothing of this and there is a row with his wife. They make up and admit that the visit has reopened the wellsprings of their first ardour. They disappear into the bedroom while Ane stands in amazement.

The singing and the plot of this one-acter positively dances its way out of the overture. The writing has a sort of delicate exuberance and an ardent ineluctable flow which more than once put me in mind of the character interplay in Act I of Boheme. There is also a touch of the ecstatic surrender of a Lehár melody threaded through the writing from about 0900 forward in Scene 2. The Sibelian voice of elfin woodwind can be heard at 00.45 in scene 4 and at 02.25 in scene 5; equally Sibelian, and delicately light-footed is the string writing at 01.03 in scene 5. Børresen is good at striking a balance between orchestra and voices - listen to the start of scene 5. The epilogue displays a luxuriant ‘fall’ into a silvery silence. Flittering and glittering, a reminiscence of the romantically joyous pppp writing and woodwind dances of the earlier scenes bring the opera to an end. Those quietly excitable sleigh-bell noises are of a type with those at the start and close of Barber’s Vanessa (superbly done by both Naxos and Chandos) and in part I of Rachmaninov’s The Bells.

The Børresen work is a bejewelled score with an irresistible onward flow of plot and music. This is helped here by the gorgeously precise orchestra - in lively sympathy with the fragile wonder that is Børresen’s Den kongelige gaest. It has been a pleasure to hear the whole score after having had to make do for years with a tape of extracts in a Danish Radio version made in the 1970s by Jens Schrøder with the Aalborg By-Orkester.

I mentioned Szymanowski earlier. While the outcome is completely different the theme of the dangerous ecstatic stranger is in common with the Polish composer’s King Roger. There the outcome and emotional potency are quite different. However the effect of the mysterious stranger on ordered relationships can be seen there and in a different way in the work of the Dark Fiddler in Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet.

As you would anticipate with Dacapo, the whole project is done with style. There is a very full booklet with synopsis, notes and libretto in Danish, English and German. My only quibble is that the cardboard sleeve is so tight that at first it is difficult to extract the booklet and disc.

Fans of late romantic opera - and even of operetta - wanting a day out in an unfamiliar place must hear this. Recommended strongly. A success in every way.

Rob Barnett


1. Forspil [06:55]
2. 1. scene ‘Skynd dig nu, Ane!’ – Emmy, Ane, Høyer [08:59]
3. 2. scene ‘Der er nok bud efter dig’ – Emmy, Høyer, Lillepigen, Gæsten [20:54]
4. 3. scene ‘Hvad skal vi dog gøre?’ – Emmy, Høyer, Ane [05:06]
5. 4. scene ‘Vi er alene!’ – Gæsten, Ane, Emmy, Høyer [07:12]
6. 5. scene ‘Ser De min kuffert der?’ – Gæsten, Høyer, Emmy [20:07]
7. 6. scene ‘Sluk dog de lys!’ – Høyer, Emmy, Ane [08:55]
8. Slutning ‘Der kør’ han, den djævel!’ – Ane [01:12]
Danish Symphonies of the Late Romantic Period
Symphonies 2 and 3 - CPO Ole Schmidt

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