Matthias Aeschbacher: Peder Gram Symphonies Complete

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Symphony No. 1 by Peder Gram, Conducted by Matthias Aeschbacher with the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra.
Composer and conductor Peder Gram (November 25...
Composer and conductor Peder Gram
(November 25, 1881 - February 4, 1956)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I. Moderato Ma Risoluto - 00:00
II. Sostenuto e risentito - Molto piu mosso ma tranquillo - Andante - Tempo I - 12:14
III. Vigoroso ma con grandezza - 22:32

The highly elaborated first movement is introduced vigorously with chopping chords, but soon loosens up, and the first subject unfolds in an expansive melodic flow. Then the second subject makes its appea
rance; it is very brief, even formulaic, and is played by the celesta. The extensive development section exhibits a peculiar feature in the form of a passage of almost improvisatory character where the woodwinds gambol in cascades of notes.

The second movement has a cantabile sound, which is interrupted by muted but impetuous violin runs - a passage that recalls the 'improvisatory' section of the first movement. The festive and powerful final movement also has a short instrumental passage that stands out from the rest of the movement, in this case a fugato in the strings. Towards the end of the movement Gram allows themes from the two preceding movements back, thus strengthening the unity of the work.

Thanks to the growing interest in rehabilitating neglected or quite simply repressed Danish composers which perhaps began with the 'rediscovery' of Rued Langgaard at the end of the 1960s, we have seen the musical map of Denmark change a good deal. Some composers who were earlier almost unknown have suddenly come to life, if not in the current repertoire then at least on CD, and musical works that have been regarded as unoriginal and clichéd have perhaps at last 'found' the musicians who take them seriously and, with a new point of departure in performance practice, bring out the qualities that have lain latent for generations, but invisible and at all events inaudible to most people.

Symphony No. 2 by Peder Gram. With Andrea Pellegrini (Mezzo-Soprano). Conducted by Matthias Aeschbacher with the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra.

I. Entrata - Maestoso - Andante - 00:00
II. Recitativo - 4:49
III. Melodia - 6:33
IV. Azione - Allegro Con Brio - 9:07
V. Epilogo. Allegretto - Adagio - Allegretto - Adagio - Andante - 20:27

The first part, a short "Entrata", begins with strong struck chords, each of which has a three-note grace figure that comes to play an important role in the further development. The nine introductory chords are followed a light, meditative section which after a couple of climaxes falls calm to the flute's playing of the above-mentioned grace figure. After a general pause the second part begins. It has the heading "Recitativo" and opens with a short oboe cantilena which includes the grace figure. The brief, extremely -beautiful-sounding movement ends with the same grace figure, and the music then proceeds directly to the third part, "-Melodia", which is intoned by the mezzo-soprano. Like Erik Stokkebye's nature lyric, the celesta, which was clearly a regular feature of Peder Gram's orchestral palette, gives this part a beautiful colouring. Stokkebye, who had in fact been a schoolfellow of Gram's, was very popular with a number of Danish composers around the First World War, including Louis Glass. At the end of the "Melodia" section the music fades out to a clarinet passage derived from the above-mentioned grace figure. Then comes the elaborated fourth part, "Azione", which is easily the symphony's longest and weightiest section. The title means Action, and is indeed an apt name for the movement, which with great energy shatters the concentrated idyll evoked by among other things Stokkebye's poem. The first subject of the movement features a triplet which may be derived from the previous grace figure. Quickly a fugato section takes over; here too the grace figure plays a prominent role, -functioning as counter-point to the actual fugue complex. The main part is repeated in a new instrumentation and on the whole with quite different expression, among other reasons because the grace figure has now been incorporated in the development. In a last climax, the grace figure appears in, among other instruments, trumpets and trombones. The section ends with a cymbal clash, solo. The final section, "Epilogo", opens with a flute solo which is succeeded by the clarinet, after which a hectic mood suddenly arises; but this soon goes on to a repetition of the broad cantabile theme from the "Entrata" part, and after a climax the symphony is concluded with the grace figure accompanied by among other things harp chords. If - as has been done here - one focuses on the treatment of the grace figure in the symphony, one will note that there is a development from the directly threatening in the appearance of the figure in the introduction to the completely relaxed in the conclusion of the work, which can thus perhaps be said to exhibit an element of clarification or even transfiguration.

Symphony No. 3 by Peder Gram. Conducted by Matthias Aeschbacher with the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra.

I. Moderato E Poco Maestoso - 00:00
II. Intermezzo - Adagio - 10:14
III. Allegro Marciale - 19:49

It has been mentioned above that Peder Gram was more or less pressured into continuing his sequence of symphonies decades after he had stopped working in this genre, and one might thus fear that the Third Symphony, which Gram composed a few years before his death in 1956 - it is end-dated 16th July 1954 - would be an anticlimax in the oeuvre. But this is not the case. True, he returns here to the quite traditional three-movement symphony type with a first movement in sonata form and a peaceful second movement followed by a complex polyphonic final movement; and true, he works within a tonal idiom that had been fully developed in this form around the First World War; yet one is tempted to say that this extremely well-orchestrated symphony ends Gram's succession of works as beautifully as possible - even though he strikes out on no new paths, and even though he does not follow the new lines that had been laid out in the Second Symphony.
The Third Symphony is well suited to intensive listening where one can for example enjoy Gram's finely nuanced harmonies in the long exposition section in the first movement, or one can hear how in the second movement he incorporated a Torgut folk song which the travelling researcher Henning Haslund-Christensen had brought home from one of his Central Asian expeditions to Mongolia - the theme is played here by the horn - or one can admire the polyphonic mastery in the final movement.