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Niels W. GADE (1817-1890)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in A major Op. 6 (1842) [25:25]
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor Op. 21 (1849) [20:49]
Violin Sonata No. 3 in B flat major Op. 59 (1885) [22:03]
Christina Åstrand (violin); Per Salo (piano)
rec. Koncerthuset, Studio 2, Copenhagen, June 2008
DACAPO 8.226066 [68:30]
Experience Classicsonline

The three Gade sonatas are programmed backwards by Dacapo so we start with the 1885 Third, a work written almost contemporaneously with the magic duo of Brahms's Op.108 and Franck's canonic, cyclic masterpiece. Having thus unfairly set up expectations of a heady late Romantic opus to vie with theirs let me gently let you down.

The B flat major is a work of easy lyricism, with - characteristic for the composer - quite an extrovert part for the piano; it's no subservient coach and horses sonata. Dedicated to Wilhelmine Normann-Neruda - whom you might know her better as Wilma Neruda - we are told in the extensive and very thorough booklet notes that there was only one traceable performance of the work at the time; though not whether it was played by its dedicatee. Gade's Scherzi were inclined to be of a slightly complicated layout but they never sound schematic; basically three scherzo sections with two trios. Neither does this one. There's a warm, not overtly personalised Romanze and the final movement of the four is an animated and well distributed Allegro vivace. So, no masterpiece but worth hearing.

The First sonata takes us right back to 1842 and is an amiable work with refined Mendelssohnian lyricism buried elegantly in its sub-stratum, its DNA soundly mid-century. The advantage of course is one of melodic freshness and a winning, charming Romance-leaning slow movement. The strongest of the three movements, though, is the finale with plenty of opportunities for the pianist to unleash some fusillades of his own. It's a tricky movement to balance with strong, penetrating piano accents and a more clement violin line, the string figuration often subservient to the unleashed tiger of the piano part. Even the rugged declamatory material towards the end transforms itself into a calming Leipzig close.

Gade was still in that city's thickets when he wrote the 1849 Second sonata. Its baroque-genuflecting sliver of an Adagio introduction leads to a satisfying douche of an Allegro di molto. Turbulence and elasticity characterise this sonata, tightly argued along the Mendelssohn-Schumann axis. The central movement is, in effect, a song without words - pliant, and extremely well articulated by Åstrand who softens her tone appropriately and plays with just simplicity. One of the recording's slight limitations is that it's a bit close-up, which tends to accentuate Salo's fine pianism and present it as a touch brasher than it probably is. But this is, in the end, Gade's fault as well. This movement's B section is laconically genial and presents a fine contrast. Lovers of Mendelssohnian sonatas will enjoy the finale of the D minor; it's supped well and deeply.

There is competition in these works. Dora Bratchkova and pianist Andreas Meyer-Hermann, for example, essay the three sonatas on CPO 999 644-2 but the Dacapo team is more idiomatic and better balanced; their immersion in Gade and Emil Hartmann for that matter - they've both recorded the latter's concertos - is palpable. Go for them.

Jonathan Woolf 



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