LANGGAARD Music of the Spheres

Four Tone Pictures Gitta-Maria Sjoberg (soprano) Danish National Radio SO / Gennady Rozhdestvensky Chandos CHAN 9517
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The Independent Culture
The Danish composer Rued Langgaard (pronounced Ruthe Langaw) was a boy prodigy: virtuoso organ recitals at the age of 11, a symphony performed by the Berlin Philharmonic at 17. After his twenties, both his life and work show a sad decline. But before that he managed a handful of utterly individual works, chief amongst them Music of the Spheres (1916-18) for chorus, large orchestra, off-stage chamber orchestra and soprano, organ and piano (played only on the strings). When Gyorgy Ligeti saw the score in 1968, he remarked, "So after all, I'm only a follower of Langgaard."

Three decades later, Music of the Spheres still sounds like one of the most original things written in the first half of this century. As forward- looking as Ives and Scriabin (the only comparisons that vaguely come to mind), it drifts from idea to haunting idea with the logic of a dream: quietly shimmering cluster-chords, lush tendrils of string sound pre-echoing Tippett's Corelli Fantasy, ghostly repetitive figures passed between the two orchestras, and, just before the end, a terrifying bitonal tutti, which Langgaard - ever eager to help the listener - labelled "Antichrist". This new recording serves the music marvellously - Music of the Spheres is perfect Rozhdestvensky territory - and so does the recording, with its fine sense of space and focus.

The Four Tone Pictures are relatively slight and much less original, though Langgaard's voice is still recognisable, and again they're beautifully played and sung. Anyone interested in 20th-century music should hear this. Langgaard was virtually ignored in his own adult life; perhaps his time has come.