> Harmonious Families Vol 2 GADE [JF]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

One of the most grown-up review sites around
One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here


International mailing

Up to 40% off

  Founder: Len Mullenger


  AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Harmonious Families Volume 2
Danish Compositions by Fathers and Sons

Niels W. Gade
‘Mariotta’ Concert Overture (1848/49)
Hamlet’ Concert Overture (1861)
Capriccio for Violin & Orchestra in A minor (1861)
‘Echoes from Ossian’ Concert Overture (1840)

Axel GADE (1860-1921)
Concerto No.2 for Violin & Orchestra in F Op.10 (1899)
The Danish Philharmonic Orchestra, South Jutland
Iona Brown – conductor
Christina Ästrand - violin
Recorded Musikhuset, Sønderborg February 1999
Danacord DACOCD 510


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 played.

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.
John France


Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.