Great Danes: Nielsen, Langgaard on Dacapo

The Danish national label Dacapo, which Naxos of America distributes, has been putting out recordings by Denmark’s composers and performers since 1989. Lately, critics here in the US have been paying attention to releases of music by Carl Nielsen and Rued Langgaard, two composers from the first part of the century that took different musical paths.

Nielsen, who enjoyed privileged status as part of the musical establishment in Copenhagen, adopted a tight, neo-classical style as his career advanced. Dacapo, which already has a complete set of his symphonies in its catalogue, released an album of short orchestral works which David Hurwitz of called a “slam-dunk.” Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times described the first volume of Dacapo’s complete set of Nielsen’s string quartets as “youthful and elegant.”

Langgaard (1893-1952), the son of professional musicians, was widely regarded by contemporaries as highly eccentric–he probably would have called himself highly spiritual–and his music, particularly his later works are unorthodox but full of varied orchestral color.

Steve Smith, writing for The New York Times, discusses Langgaard’s distinct brand of musical mysticism in a review, which appeared last weekend, of two Dacapo releases of the composer’s symphonies (his Second and Third on one album; Numbers 12-14 on the other) with Thomas Dausgaard and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. This same ensemble also appears on the DVD and CD versions of Langgaard’s opera Antikrist.