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Simonsen: Symphonies No 1 & 2, Overture In G Minor / Yinon, Sonderjyllands So

Release Date: 04/28/2009 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777229-2   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Rudolph Hermann Simonsen
Conductor:  Israel Yinon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sonderjyllands Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SIMONSEN Overture in g. Symphonies: No. 1, “Zion”; No. 2, “Hellas” Israel Yinon, cond; Sønderjyllands SO cpo 777 229 (70:52)

Rudolph Hermann Simonsen was born in Denmark on April 30, 1889. After a career of composing and teaching music history and piano at the Royal Danish Conservatory, he became the successor to Carl Nielsen as the Conservatory’s principal. He had an evangelical zeal for spreading classical Read more music among the people, which he attempted with lectures throughout the country and on the radio, in articles, and in books. Simonsen greatly admired German culture, so when the Nazi regime assumed power—which meant that Simonsen, who was a Jew, and his family had to flee to Sweden—he suffered a blow from sheer disillusionment. A blow, we are told, from which he never recovered after returning to his native Denmark, where he died in 1947 at age 58.

Between 1920 and 1925, Simonsen wrote four symphonies, which are subtitled “Zion,” “Hellas,” “Roma,” and “Denmark.” The first three are tributes to Jewish, Greek, and Roman culture and form a triptych. “Zion” and “Hellas,” three movements each, are included on the present disc with the Søderjyllands Symfoniorkester (providing concerts throughout Jutland, the part of Denmark attached to the continent). The 1910 Overture in G Minor is thrown in too. The unusually lucid liner notes (not by van den Hoogen, cpo’s regular contributor—and thankfully not in their damnable translations) mention Nielsen, but also Sibelius and Wagner as the main inspirations. Carl Nielsen is an obvious influence for the “Zion” Symphony (which he conducted at its premiere), with its movements “Against Slavery,” “The Promise,” and Allegro con brio.

My initial enthusiasm—“a second Bruckner!”—has cooled a little since first hearing these discs. The “Promise” movement, for example, grinds down to a pretty dark, dull vision of the future before a more pastoral mood lifts it from gloom at around the 10-minute mark. There is some tedium and a few very put-on Jewish-like colors that benefit from patience during the nearly 19 minutes of the movement. The following Allegro is a more engaging conclusion to the work that Arturo Toscanini once expressed interest in. (Can you imagine him in rehearsal? “Is-a not Moses; is-a not Ramses—is Allegro con brio!”)

The “Hellas” Symphony, a wonderfully curious aside, got Simonsen a bronze medal at the 1928 Olympic Games. Since neither a gold nor silver medalist, nor even a bronze medalist was named in the three composition categories, “Song,” “One Instrument,” and “Orchestra,” he could be said to have come in first. Until 1948, Art was part of the Olympics, with medals given in categories (and subcategories) of architecture, literature, painting/graphic art, sculpture, and music—so long as they were somehow related to the Olympics. Silver sounds about right: that portentous work doesn’t strike me as a gold medalist, either. The Symphony is motif-heavy (and the motifs are heavy) and solidly constructed. It even has touching moments, like the strings of the “Loneliness in front of the Temples” movement, which sweeps up with the feel of a Mahler Adagio and continues with a cool lament of the woodwinds and flutes. But the moments in which I remain fully engaged around the 10th time listening to the work continue to decrease, not increase. My sense of why I remain unconvinced by these two symphonies is a vague one, and therefore my description remains vague too. I only know that the performances cannot be faulted.

The G-Minor Overture is a wholly enticing 14 minutes of grandeur—probably the reason for my Bruckner analogy in the first place—melodic and sweeping bombast of the finest order and nothing to be vague about, only enthusiastic.

FANFARE: Jens F. Laurson
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Works on This Recording

Overture in G minor by Rudolph Hermann Simonsen
Conductor:  Israel Yinon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sonderjyllands Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Symphony no 1 "Zion" by Rudolph Hermann Simonsen
Conductor:  Israel Yinon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sonderjyllands Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Symphony no 2 "Hellas" by Rudolph Hermann Simonsen
Conductor:  Israel Yinon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sonderjyllands Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921; Berlin, Germany 

Sound Samples

Overture in G minor
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, "Zion": I. Kampf gegen Knechtschaft
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, "Zion": II. Verheissung
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, "Zion": III. Allegro con brio
Symphony No. 2, "Hellas": I. Die Orestie
Symphony No. 2, "Hellas": II. Einsamkeit vor den Temple
Symphony No. 2, "Hellas": III. Pallas Athene

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