RIISAGER: The Symphonic Edition, Vol. 3 = Summer Rhapsody; Sinfonia Concertante; Symphony No. 4, Symphony No. 5 – Aarhus Sym. Orch./ Bo Holten – DaCapo 8.226148, 64:15 [Distr. by Naxos] (2/25/14) ****:

Knudåge Riisager was a Danish composer (1897-1974) who balanced work as a civil servant and composer to produce a tremendous output of 400 compositions, including ballets and symphonies.

The disk under review is volume 3 in an enterprising series of Riisager’s work that includes his Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 5 as well as his Summer Rhapsody and Sinfonia Concertante. HIs works were considered to be generally a part of the French tradition in Danish neoclassical music.

The two symphonies, both world premiere recordings, are powerful and richly orchestrated. The 4th Symphony dates from 1939, and is rich in colorful splashes of brass amid the driving string music. The work contains three movements and was written as Europe was moving toward war. There is a militaristic sound augmented by tympanis. It’s a thrilling and moving work.

The 5th Symphony is the composer’s last work, and and was written ten years after the 4th. It is a four-movement work for strings and tympani, and features the same energetic driving melodies punctuated by percussion.

The remaining two works don’t have the emotional punch of the symphonies. Both the Summer Rhapsody and Sinfonia Concertante are lighter works in spirit and execution.

The Aarhus Orchestra, led by Bo Holten, is fully in control of these difficult works. The recording is excellent, and the smoothness of the strings is on a par with a quality SACD disc. The orchestral image is very sharp, both left to right and front to back. While not a spectacular ‘demo’ recording, is is an excellent capture of the sound of an orchestra in a well controlled acoustic environment.

DaCapo Records of Copenhagen is to be complimented on this excellent volume offering a needed tribute to Riisager’s talents. While hardly a well known composer in the West, the disc showcases an important contributor to the classical tradition and reinforces it with an excellent recording.


Summer Rhapsody

Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 34

     I. Allegro

    II. Intermezzo espressivo

   III. Vivace e leggiero 

   IV. Grave

    V. Allegro giocoso

Symphony No. 4, Op. 38, “Sinfonia gaia”

 I. Allegro ostinato

II. Allegretto chiaro

III. Rondo di ritmo

Symphony No. 5, Op. 52, “Sinfonia serena”

  I. Allegro ardito

 II. Vivace ilare

III. Lamentoso

IV. Allegro spregiudicato

—Mel Martin