Paul Mann

Herman D. Koppel: Concertos

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Danish composer Herman D. Koppel put special emphasis on the form of concerto; he composed four piano concertos for his own hands, and then created numerous others in order to work with high-caliber instrumentalists that he admired. Dacapo's collection, Herman D. Koppel: Concertos, contains three concertos of ambitious scale that are quite different from one another. The Piano Concerto No. 2, featuring pianist Ulrich Staerk, dates from 1931 and is reminiscent of Stravinsky's Capriccio for piano and orchestra, composed at that time, except that it is darker in tone and longer. The orchestral accompaniment has a lot more to say here than in Stravinsky's compact little concert study, and it doesn't give the soloist quite enough room to show off. The Cello Concerto, Op. 56 (1952), played winningly by cellist Michaela Fukacova, is far more assured, and of the three, seems the most effective. Herman D. Koppel is on his game here, deftly balancing lyricism, a more Spartan and sparkling orchestration than in 1931, and an ever-changing rhythmic profile. Just what is up with Koppel's Flute Concerto, Op. 87a (1971), though, is anyone's guess. The reminiscence of flutist Poul Birkelund, for whom the concerto was written, is telling; Herman wanted to be part of it all. It was a busy, searching period when he tried to see how far he could go. He jumped on the bandwagon, but he kept his personal stamp." Indeed, this concerto is atonal and skillfully done for the most part, but in this idiom, Koppel is a fish out of water and, while the concerto contains some extraordinary moments, over time the carefully laid plans at the opening ultimately give way to a kind of dense confusion toward the end. It does not represent Koppel at his best.

Dacapo's recording, usually excellent, is a little off the mark in this instance, as the recording is rather quiet overall and Fukacova's cello seems a bit behind the orchestra. Dacapo is recording all of Koppel's music, and there is a lot of great music in his catalog. Herman D. Koppel: Concertos may prove of interest to those who follow him closely, but other than the Cello Concerto does not represent him at his best.

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