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Leopold van der PALS (1884-1966)
Concert piece for violin and orchestra, Op.10 (1911) [19:03]
Concertino for cello and orchestra, Op.108 (1938) [13:15]
Concerto for piano and orchestra, Op.100 (1938) [9:32]
‘Mönch Wanderer’ Suite, Op.84b (1931; arr suite 1956) [20:11]
Gordan Trajkovic (violin), Tobias van der Pals (cello), Marianna Shirinyan (piano), Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Fredrik Burstedt
rec. 2019, Konserthuset Helsingborg, Sweden
CPO 555 316-2 [62:10]

Leopold van der Pals’s First Symphony was released by CPO a couple of years ago in performances by the same orchestra as here, the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, but there directed by Johannes Goritzki (see review where biographical details will alert you to the composer’s background). The symphony dates from 1909, and the other two works in that disc cover the years to 1912. Only the Concert Piece for violin in this latest release is that early, the others coming from the 1930s.

The Concert Piece is a 19-minute affair and falls into defined movements, an Allegro leading to an Andante section and then an Allegro to finish. So far, so conventional. The music is long-breathed and lyric, with rich cantilena for the solo violin against high winds as the music moves into the slow section. Much is refulgent, blanketed and burnished, and full of dynamic gradients that intensify the richness and mellowness of the writing. Van der Pals reserves chances for virtuoso figuration for the work’s summation but ensures tunefulness and expert orchestration are to the fore.

The Cello Concertino is performed by Tobias van der Pals, a direct descendent of the composer, and he manoeuvres adeptly through this tight 13-minute span. The work was, however, originally written for Sigurd Rasche, Europe’s leading concert saxophonist, and arranged later by the composer for the viola at the request of a friend (the saxophone version is on Naxos 8.579038). He never completed the cello adaptation which has now been accomplished by Tobias van der Pals. It’s a succinct piece, complete with a four-part fugato, that emerges seemingly from nowhere, in a slightly hyperactive opening movement. The restful slow movement offers contrast and the amusingly irregular rhythms of the finale denote a vaguely folksy feel with fast dance themes. The cello concertino is longer than the saxophone original.

Things diminish yet further when turning to the pocket battleship piano concerto, which lasts nine minutes. Cast on the metamorphosis principle it’s a quiescent and lyric piece with undulating themes, a bright and attractive Intermezzo and a crisply humorous finale. It was completed in May 1938 and performed for the first time the following month to mark the occasion of the composer’s fifty-fourth birthday.

Finally, there is Sphären-Musik, aus ‘Mönch Wanderer’ Suite, Op.84b, or ‘phere-Music to the dramatic poem ‘Mönch Wanderer’. He composed and orchestrated the complete piece from 1929 to 1931. He revised it in 1956 putting together two suites. The whole piece, called Monk Wanderer (in translation), was an ambitious stage production including actors, singers eurythmic dance, and cast for full symphony orchestra and chorus. The Sphere Music heard here comes from the third scene of the work and the celestial spheres represent spirit, love, light, wisdom and knowledge. The relevant passages from the poem are reprinted in German and English translation and occupy the theosophical centre-ground. The suite is attractive, impressionist in places, more explicitly Delian in others (try Venus), brassy in Mars with lashings of braggadocio as well as a modicum of Martian charm, rather antique in Jupiter and sepulchral in Saturn. Interesting to hear, though not Holst, obviously.

All three soloists acquit themselves with stylistic assurance, never pushing the music beyond its natural constraints. The Helsingborg forces continue to prove admirable ambassadors for the composer and Fredrik Burstedt is a more than capable helmsman, assisted by a fine recording. The three concertos or concertante pieces are awkwardly sized for a conventional concert programme but at the time of writing we won’t be having many of those so armchair listening is advised instead. Van der Pals had a definite lyric gift though there are few truly heart-surging moments here to satisfy the romantic spirit. In the 1930s he was refining and characterising his music with precision more than passion. Nevertheless, his music is quietly valuable.

Jonathan Woolf

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