Late romantic and spectacular: Rued Langgaard is fun!

At the beginning of the year, the Deutsche Oper Berlin performed “Antikrist” by Danish composer Rued Langgaard. The music festival had performed its “Music of the Spheres” a few years ago. On Thursday, the Berliner Philharmoniker played Oramo Langgaard’s First Symphony conducted by Sakari.

There is something grandiosely spectacular and ambitious about all these works that can only be explained and justified by the youth in which they were composed: he wrote his first when he was 15, revised it at 18 and brought it to the Berlin Philharmonic two years later Premiere. The work’s huge success promised a career of its own – but instead, Langgaard was quick to gamble away his reputation with odd behavior.

Carefree immoderation

What a pity for him – but he seems to have left something worth rediscovering! In any case, Langgaard’s First Symphony, nicknamed “Klippenpastorale”, is a piece whose technical security and carefree excess, whose late-Romantic digging lead to a high level of originality and stylistic eclecticism in equal measure.

The length of the first movement embraces the late Wagner as well as Bruckner, who at times seems quoted, the emotional drasticity of a Tchaikovsky. In addition, there is an almost frightening virtuosity in dealing with a simple basic motif of a few notes and an orchestra with eight horns and a correspondingly large wind and string instrumentation: Langgaard combines brass counterpoint and frenzied sound bands of the rest of the orchestra, sometimes with a noisy effect. How can you be able to do something like that when you’re just an adult?

How cranky is Sibelius!

The movements that follow are simpler: bewitching what Langgaard begins with chromatic suspended chords in the second movement, magical the beginning of the third movement, entitled ‘Sage’, with its veiled horn tones within a hollow brass soundspace. This evokes memories of early Schönberg, but also of the visionary anti-academism of a Charles Ives: Langgaard inherited a tradition, but he did not serve to nurture it. One suspects that behind the expressively excessive range of this music there is a highly tense world of ideas of symbolism and theosophy – but at the same time listening to this music is so much fun that one is happy to postpone dealing with it.

Oramo conducted the work and the Philharmonic played it in such a way that it was easy to get to know. There’s no need for that with the enigmatically popular Sibelius Violin Concerto – but what stale stuff it is in comparison! However, Janine Jansen was able to captivate the listener with her solo part: the colours, tension and passion of her playing stood out impressively from the speechless emptiness of this music.

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