It is the son’s music that appeals most to me on this excellent CD. Axel
Gade was, of course a violinist who had studied with Joseph Joachim in
Berlin. There is comparatively little written about him - not even managing
a mention in Groves. So really all we have to go on is this present concerto.
He did compose an opera, Venezia's Nights and some chamber music.
There is even a Second Violin Concerto. However, all these seem
to have gone the way of so much music. Of course Axel is over shadowed
by his father; that is beyond argument.
I am quite disappointed with the sleeve notes when it comes to Axel Gade.
This minor masterpiece is disposed of in about a hundred words. I feel
that there must be a lot more to say about it. For example, how was it
received when first performed? Has it been played regularly since, or
is this a total rediscovery? It is a relatively long work - lasting nearly
half an hour; so there is plenty to go at.
The first thing to recognise is that this is a concerto written by a violinist.
Now I do not play the fiddle myself - but I can feel that every note of
this work seems to lie well for the soloist. It does not sound easy by
any means - in fact the very opposite is true - but it seems to have a
grateful solo part. And of course that is as it should be. I am not condemning
composers who compose concerti for instrument other than their own - far
from it. However, when a consummate player and a competent composer combine
in an outstanding work the effect is obvious for all to see.
Of course with so little information about Axel it is difficult to situate
this work in his oeuvre. Is it a 'late' work or an early work? It was
composed when he was nearly forty years old. However, was he an early
starter or did composing come late in life to him? The concerto is in
a very romantic style - perhaps even a little anachronistic for 1899.
Was this Gade junior's preferred sound or was it an aberration? These
are all valid questions, which the programme notes does not answer.
Suffice to say that it is a fine work with memorable tunes and interesting
figuration throughout the piece. The first movement is as long as the
other two combined. Much musical ground is covered in this sometimes stormy
and tempestuous music. There is some fine cadenza writing in this movement.
However, the tension is eased off considerably in the Serenade Pastorale.
This is not a great slow movement -however it is attractive and full of
lovely tunes. There is very much a palm court fell to some of this. That
is not a criticism but an attempt to give some idea of the style. As I
remarked earlier, this music seems to be a 'late' romantic work - not
in the sense usually applied to Reger and Pfitzner et al. However it seems
to me to be written in a style some 30 years after it time. So often in
concerti the last movement is the least good; the invention seems to have
dried up and the aim is simply to get the work out of the way as soon
as possible. However this is not the case with Axel Gade's Violin Concerto.
The last movement is full of good things. There are first-rate tunes,
fascinating passages and a nice romantic theme acting as a foil to the
general feeling of the virtuosic, headlong pace.
Altogether this is high-quality concerto that could be revived more often.
It is up to Danacord and other Danish CD companies to investigate whether
there is any other music by Axel worth reviving and recording. On the
basis of this concerto one hopes that there is.
Of course a reviewer could say much more about the father, Niels, than
the son. The influence of Gade senior is writ large in the music of Denmark.
And not only in Denmark. In many ways he was on a par with Mendelssohn
in the first half of the nineteenth century.
This is not the place to write a biography of Gade, however a few key
facts will lend some interest to the somewhat mixed bag of compositions
on this disc.
Niels Gade was born in Copenhagen in 1817. His father was a maker of stringed
instruments – and this gave rise to the young boy’s first interest in
music. He learnt to play the violin and then studied with a number of
then famous teachers. He was given a royal grant to go to the then centre
of musical studies – Leipzig. Naturally he came under the spell and influence
of Mendelssohn, an influence which has perhaps overshadowed his native
talent ever since.
On returning from Germany he spent the rest of his career as an organist,
teacher and conductor. He died in 1890.
We are lucky to have his Opus One on this CD – the ‘Echoes from Ossian.’
And a fine ‘nursery’ work it is. It was composed as part of a competition
organised by the Copenhagen Musical Society. Apparently the 23-year-old
composer was extremely surprised to win first prize. The programme notes
tell us all that is necessary for an appreciation of this fine piece.
It was composed at a time when ‘things Scottish’ was in vogue – vide the
influence of Sir Walter Scott. We only need to think of Mendelssohn’s
Fingal's Cave overture and his great Scottish Symphony.
Then there was a whole series of operas on Scott subjects and of course
the overtures of Berlioz. Even Ludwig Van Beethoven composed a number
of Scottish Songs and Ecossaises. There is no doubt that this is fine
music – it is exceedingly mature stuff for an Opus One. It is regarded
by many, with considerable justification, as one of the defining works
of Danish musical culture of the nineteenth century
The overture Mariotta was written for an unsuccessful musical production
in Copenhagen. However like many musicals, right down to our own day,
the overture is certainly worth salvaging. It is bright and breezy. Obviously
there are touches of Mendelssohn in here. However it would be unfair to
attribute all Gade’s good tunes to this source. On a second listening
to this piece there are some pre-echoes of Elgar lighter compositions
– and I am not being flippant. But generally it is very much a short piece
of its time.
The overture to Hamlet is a much more serious work. Here is Gade’s
reflection on the ‘Danish’ play by the Stratford playwright. It is a superb
work. In many ways it goes far beyond the influence of Leipzig. There
is a depressed and gloomy introduction. Some superb brass writing gives
hints of the excitement to come. Soon we have some stirring music. Once
again there are some gorgeous passages that seem to prefigure our own
Parry and Elgar. There are two main themes at work in this overture –
the strong, masculine ‘Hamlet’ and the romantic and reflective ‘Ophelia.’
This music is truly beautiful. This is European music at its best. Nothing
parochial here – there are no insipid folk tunes or sentimental harmonies.
A superb work which desperately needs to be assimilated into the repertoire
both in Britain and the rest of Europe.
The Capriccio for Violin and orchestra (1861) is one of
Gade’s later works. It was originally composed for Violin and Piano but
was later orchestrated by Carl Reinecke, who was the court pianist in
Copenhagen for a number of years. This is no pretence at being intense
and serious music. However it is extremely well written and demands a
high degree of skill from the soloist. This music definitely has the feel
of the ‘Songs Without Words’ to it. However that is not to detract
from an attractive if not vital piece of music.
Niels W. Gade wrote much music. This included some eight symphonies, a
violin concerto, many overtures, a good corpus of chamber works and piano
music. If I was to sum up his style it would be somewhere between Mendelssohn
and Schumann with intimations of music to come. There is definitely a
melodic charm about all four of his the works recorded on this CD and
certainly in many others of his works that I have heard. He has an ability
to present the musical arguments with a perfect sense of proportion; his
formal processes are second to none.
It is sad that both of these composers are largely neglected – both at
home and abroad. I would love to imagine that they are well appreciated
in their native land. However, I have my doubts – I hope someone can prove
me wrong. I feel that with Gade senior there needs to be a re-evaluation
of his work. I imagine that Axel Gade will always occupy a minor niche
somewhere in the footnotes of Danish Music. However Niels W Gade has the
potential for being loved and appreciated wherever classical music is
I have expressed my delight with the concept of this ‘family affair’ in
my review of the music of the Hartmanns. There is no argument about the
quality of the playing or the presentation of the CD. It is surely an
example to other labels for an imaginative project. Let it be reiterated
that it is an excellent series of CDs allowing the musical public access
to music which would otherwise be largely un-played and unknown.