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Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Violin Concerto Op 33 FS61 (1911)
Five Songs;
Sang bag Ploven
Dengang Døden var I vente
I aften
Irmelin Rose
Min Pige er saa lys som Rav
Rued LANGGAARD (1893-1952)

String Quartet No 3 (1924)
Saeka Matsuyama (violin) with The Odense Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jan Wagner
Lars Thodberg Bertelsen (baritone) and Frode Stengaard (piano)
The Miró String Quartet
Recorded during the Danish Wave Festival and during The Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition, both held in New York in 1999.
BRIDGE 9100 [61.47]

These performances are drawn from the Danish Wave Festival and from the Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition, both of which were held in New York in 1999. It makes for individually appealing but programmatically eclectic listening – which is no bad thing once in a while. Together baritone Lars Thodberg Bertelsen and pianist Frode Stengaard perform five of Nielsen’s songs. There is a sense of direction and rapt simplicity in the semi strophic Sang bag Ploven whereas the mordant witticisms about death in Dengang Døden are realized with characterful ease. Only the wandering voice – off mike one presumes – diminishes appreciation very slightly. I aften is coolly done, its yearning romanticism held in check while the explicitly Schubertian Irmelin Rose is elegantly done. We return in a generous arch to the strophic simplicities of the opening song in the concluding Min Pige er saa lys som Rav – fine performances from both musicians who judge weight – both tonal and emotive – with judicious understanding.

The centrepiece of the programme is the 1924 Langgaard Quartet – the one now numbered No 3 - which is in three movements, the second a superfine and rapid scherzo. This is a bold and strong work. Tightly structured the first movement is in sonata form; the notes cite Bartók as a point of reference and there is certainly a powerfully motoric drive here but I was more reminded of Janáček in this work, procedurally and externally. The emphatic viola and cello unison passages in the first movement contrast with the unison violin passages – the ambiguous developmental writing and juxtapositions are here far more effective than they had been say in another of his recent chamber works, Langgaard’s slightly earlier Second Violin Sonata. Does the movement end in triumph or is it unresolved? Hard for one to say and that’s part of the work’s considered depth. The central scherzo as I said is very short but highly assertive with huge and repeated pizzicati – insistent and implacable. The final work bears the weight of the slow movement; by contrast with the aggressive scherzo this has simplicity and grace all its own, embedding a chorale into the fabric of the score. The simple lyric beauty soon broadens to bring out more discursive material, slows once again to almost Schubertian lyricism before renewed unsettled animation, the viola especially urgent and impassioned in the middle of the ensemble. Occasionally there are flirtations with the tonality of the movement, before Langgaard broadens out once more into a neo baroque theme, which – transfigures is the wrong word, implying some Schoenbergian procedure – transforms in retrospect the earlier thematic material. Langgaard was something of an expert at insinuating neo baroque material as a climactic thematic-spiritual device – see the similar sort of effect in the Violin Sonata mentioned earlier. The playing of the Miró Quartet here is absolutely splendid.

The disc includes – no small matter – a fine performance of the Nielsen Violin Concerto by the Silver Medal winner, the then eighteen year-old Saeka Matsuyama. She has considerable musical instinct for the Praeludium’s raptness, employs diminuendi with subtlety, has a strong technique and an attractive, if still small, tone. She projects well and in time will learn to cultivate more colour and variegated tonal resources. I liked the way she kicked the line onwards toward the end of the Allegro cavalleresco section. She is more than capable of fining down her tone as she demonstrates in the Poco adagio where she evinces considerable refinement and some romantic involvement. The Odense Symphony Orchestra and Jan Wagner offer far more than mere routine competition fodder accompaniment and match the soloist’s virtuoso moments with corresponding acumen.

Much more than a souvenir of a competition or concert season this is an attractive disc in its own right, persuasively interpreted and pleasantly documented.

Jonathan Woolf



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