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The variations cluster around the theme like chapels leading off a chancel. They have titles, but not a musical programme: Fugue, Toccata, Sonata, etc. The words aptly describe the musical processes going on, but they are understatements for much of the power in the music because it is during these processes that the movements explore and overhaul the theme almost as vigorously as any conventional development. The sum of the symphony is massive and cogent, dense, substantial and convincing. You can hear Nielsen here and there [listen -- track 5, 0:00-0:47] -- dry snare drum; skittish upper strings; gravitational pizzicato much lower down. There's some massy Brucknerian writing too [listen -- track 7, 2:50-3:40], but with his own voice Langgaard worries his theme like restless grit in an irritable oyster and produces something sternly grand. Being merely variations you'd expect process to predominate over product, but Langgaard's achievement here gainsays that. Repeated listening reveals a dark, luminous pearl.

Symphonies 7 and 8 are quite different, and -- I think -- very much less interesting. They are small-scale, quickly sketched pattern-books of neo-classical gestures. What's missing is the characteristically neo-classical irony of a Prokofiev or wit of a Stravinsky. These movements strike me as formulaic (and anachronistic, and uneventful, and hopelessly anodyne) to the point where they come over either as unconscious self-parody or the most obediently rendered of student exercises. They also have no personality of their own. Again and again the cadences are preposterously over-done.

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Copyright © 9 December 2001 Peter Dale, Danbury, Essex, UK






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