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Langgaard: Symphony No. 1 ‘Cliffside Pastorals’

Berlin Philharmonic/Sakari Oramo (Dacapo)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphony No. 1 ‘Cliffside Pastorals’
Berlin Philharmonic/Sakari Oramo
Dacapo 6.220644 (CD/SACD)   55:34 mins


In 1913 the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring sparked a scandal, and in America the young Henry Cowell was experimenting with chord clusters. Audacious modernism wasn’t the only ‘ism’ in the air though. That same year, the Berlin Philharmonic premiered Rued Langgaard’s Symphony No. 1, an ardent hymn to high Romanticism whose voluptuousness references Wagner and Tchaikovsky among others. The work of a Danish composer in his mid-teens, its precocity is astonishing; and, inspired by Sweden’s Kullen Peninsula, it charts a mountain ascent that unwittingly anticipates Strauss’ Alpine Symphony premiered two years later. Langgaard’s ascent, however, combines metaphysics with pictorialism, and doesn’t pull its headstrong emotional punches.

Sakari Oramo has already recorded Symphonies Nos 2 and 6 with the Vienna Philharmonic; but, in a recording enshrining live performances at the Philharmonie last June, he returns the First to the city of its premiere. It’s a fervently committed reading, ablaze with radiant conviction and surging passions. He embraces the churning maelstrom of the first movement with a willingness that nonetheless observes the detail in Langgaard’s often thick textures. The long-held pedal notes in the third movement sound the ages; while the sprawling finale achieves coherence notwithstanding – and ends with all guns blazing.


Paul Riley