Denmark has been making quite a splash at the Proms over the past few seasons. Last year Royal Danish Theatre brought Partenope to the Albert Hall, with tonight’s soloist Inger Dam-Jensen in the title role, and this year the Danish National Symphony Orchestra have just packed the hall out with a generous three-hour programme combining famous and lesser known works.
With the concert divided into three parts, the first and second each began with vocal works by Ligeti. Both Night; Morning, enjoying its Proms premiere, and the better known Lux aeterna saw the Danish National Concert Choir and Danish National Vocal Ensemble deliver some quite extraordinary singing, mystically chanting as the sopranos oozed richness and the basses produced the deepest, darkest sound.
Following both pieces, conductor Thomas Dausgaard launched straight into the next item on the programme, which meant that the opening to Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 took some by surprise. Soloist Henning Kraggerud attacked the first movement with vigour, his sound being striking, exciting and frequently insightful. By the same token, however, it lacked a little in lyricism, and as the orchestra repeated the soloist’s central theme, their mismatch in styles became all too apparent. Nevertheless, the second movement was beautifully executed by soloist and orchestra alike, while Kraggerud proved both rhythmically and tonally strong in the third.
As Lux aeterna ended Dausgaard conducted silent beats so that Rued Langgaard’s Music of the Spheres of 1918 could follow on seamlessly. Never before performed in the UK, this incredible piece feels far ahead of its time, and combines meditations on religion, nature and the universe. Amidst a multitude of sounds, strings flutter irregularly, flutes launch us into the infinite cosmos, the choir creates a chasm that we are drawn into with its final entrance, and the organ gives us the occasional moment of near Wagnerianism.
The Albert Hall was used to good effect with a smaller group playing from the gallery, and soprano Inger Dam-Jensen’s sweet but resonant voice soaring down from on high. This delivery proved that, while the piece may be infrequently performed because of the considerable resources it requires (not least four timpanists), on strict merit it deserves to be far better known than it is.
Following the second interval the orchestra delivered an effective performance of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 82, in which the final six chords were particularly well managed. Two engaging encores followed, but still the unexpected surprises of the Ligetis and the Langgaard will live longest in the memory.