MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor
Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Mariss Jansons, cond.
RCO LIVE SACD 08007 TT:71:49

HOLST: The Perfect Fool, Op. 39. The Golden Goose, Op. 45 No. 1. The Lure. The Morning of the Year, Op. 45 No. 2
Joyful Company of Singers; BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox, cond.

LANGGAARD: Drapa (On the Death of Edvard Grieg). Sphinx (Tone painting for orchestra). Hvidbjerg-Drapa (for choir, organ and orchestra). Danmarks Radio (Fanfares for orchestra). Res Absùrda!? (for choir and orchestra). Symphony No. 15 "Sostormen" (for bass baritone, male chorus and orchestra). Symphony No. 16 "Syndflod."
Danish National Vocal Ensemble; Danish National Choir; Danish National Symphony Orch/Thomas Dausgaard, cond.
DACAPO SACD 6.220519 TT: 61:43

Mariss Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra gave a series of performances of Mahler's Symphony No. 5 during the 2007/8 season, taking the work on tour as well. This SACD contains an edited version of four performances from the Concertgebouw October 18 and 21, 2007 and January 16 and 17, 2008. The Dutch orchestra has a long history with music of Mahler; Willem Mengelberg conducted all of the symphonies and in 1926 made a recording of the Adagietto from Symphony No. 5—which takes but 7:04 although it never sounds rushed—most performances of this take 10-12 minutes: Jansons takes 9:16. Bernard Haitink recorded the Fifth for Philips in 1970 and this has been issued on four-channel sound on Pentatone, one of the few such releases where multi-channel sound doesn't improve the original two-channel original—which wasn't very good (REVIEW). Riccardo Chailly recorded Symphony No.5 for Decca in October 1997, infinitely superior sonically to Haitink's, and this new Jansons recording is best-recorded of the three. This is one of the most successful RCO Live recordings, wide in dynamic range and better balanced. Terrific performance, great sound!

The loss to the musical world with the untimely death of Richard Hickox is evidenced again with this magnificent Chandos issue of music of Gustav Holst. In addition to the popular suite from the ballet The Perfect Fool, we have the 6-movement 25-minute choral ballet The Golden Goose, Op. 45 No. 1 adapted from the Grimm story, for chorus and orchestra. Another choral ballet: The Morning of the Year, Op. 45 No. 2 is "a representation of the mating ordained by Nature to happen in the spring of each year." The rather subdued music hardly suggests such a grandiose title. A plus is more seldom heard ballet music, a 10-minute work called The Lure, which easily could have been a movement of The Planets completed five years earlier. All of this music is unmistakably Holst, and the performances are outstanding as is the audio, although as usual with Chandos, rear speakers are used solely for minimal reflected sound. Complete texts are provided for the choral works. An outstanding release!

Danish label DaCapo is to be commended for their superb recordings of symphonic works of native composer Rued Langgaard (1893-1952). This site has already mentioned their releases of Symphony No. 1 (REVIEW), Symphonies 2 and 3 (REVIEW), and Symphonies 12 and 13 (REVIEW). A "drapa" is an old Norse poem of homage and tells a story, and there are two of them on this disk. The first dates from 1907 and is a tribute to Grieg who befriended the young composer. The second, Hvidbjerg, is of epic scale although it is less than 3 minutes long. Scored for chorus, organ and orchestra, it tells of an historical event in northern Jutland on Christmas Eve 1260 when Bishop Oluf Glob was killed by his nephew, knight Jens Glob in a dispute over property, honor and religion. It is a magnificent work, seldom performed because of the large forces involved. Sphinx is Langgaard's most popular symphonic work, premiered with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Max Fiedler in 1913. In this, the composer effectively compares music to a crystal tower that reaches down to the depths of the unknown and up through the heavens above the stars. In the brief (1:18) Fanfares written in 1948, a Danish folksong becomes brilliant fanfares for use by Danish Radio. Res Absurda! is also short (5:35), 30 bars repeated many times as pace quickens, an example of the composer's "absurd wit". The two symphonies are of enormous interest. No. 15, subtitled "The Storm," and is scored for bass baritone, male chorus and orchestra, a vivid depiction of a savage night storm. No. 16 was Langgaard's last major work, about light versus darkness. All of this music is compelling listening, and performances are outstanding, as is sonic quality. High recommended!

R.E.B. (February 2009)