About halfway through the second movement of Danish composer Per Nørgård's Third Symphony, some listeners may feel tempted to stop the disc. You'll know it when you get there: the moment when the post-expressionist mists clear and the mixed choir suddenly breaks into a rambunctious Latin American dance number. Don't give up. While the opening movement has its acute harmonic difficulties and the closing movement's thematic content is a wild mashup of styles and idioms, there are still pages of such otherworldly beauty throughout the Third that, for some listeners at least, the journey will have been worth the 45-minute time investment. One can easily imagine in a lesser performance how the work could sound like an unholy amalgam of Messiaen's radiant religiosity and Scriabin's ecstasy. But in this dedicated performance by the Danish National Orchestra, Choir, and Vocal Ensemble under the direction of Thomas Dausgaard, the Third's swirling colors, whirling tempos, indeterminate form, and extravagant gestures command respect if not necessarily admiration.
Nørgård's Seventh Symphony, written 30 years later, hardly sounds like the work of the same man. Though there are hints of the earlier composer in some of the brass interjections and the timpani tattoos, the Seventh sounds like the work of a more conservative composer who had been influenced perhaps too much by Stravinsky's postwar neo-classical works. Once again Dausgaard and the Danish National Orchestra turn in wholly committed performances, but this time the results are less impressive, in large part because the music itself is less distinctive. Both works receive cool, clear yet vivid recordings from Dacapo.