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Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Chamber Music Vol. 2
Sonata No. 1 for violin and piano, Op. 9 (1895) [21:17]
Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano, Op. 35 (1912) [20:39]
Prelude, Theme and Variations for solo violin, Op. 48 (1923) [18:11]
Preludio e Presto for solo violin, Op. 52 (1928) [11:43]
Jon Gjesme (violin) (1-2); Jens Elvekjær (piano) (1-2); Tue Lautrup (violin)
rec. November 2006, March 2007, The Black Diamond, The Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark
DACAPO 8.226065 [71:50]
Experience Classicsonline


As a fairly recent convert to Nielsen’s symphonies – helped in no small measure by Dacapo’s splendid Michael Schønwandt series, now reissued on Naxos – I was particularly keen to hear the composer in chamber mode. This review disc is certainly wide-ranging, covering as it does works from Nielsen’s early days to his mature style. The players are unfamiliar to me, but reading the artist biographies in the CD booklet – competitors please note – it’s obvious they aren’t lightweights. As for the modernist Black Diamond – opened in 1999 and so-called because of its black marble cladding – this seems an entirely apt venue for music of such striking modernity.

From the outset it’s clear the Op. 9 sonata – in A major – was never going to be a crowd-pleaser; it’s bright and forthright, the piano part particularly prominent, and Nielsen’s penchant for changing tack without warning makes for an exhilarating voyage. The recording is equally upfront but thankfully it’s never strident. The Allegro glorioso has much to commend it, not least Jon Gjesme’s sinewy violin playing. This is young man’s music, full of passion and optimism, and even the languid Andante speaks of rare, all-embracing contentment.

The Allegro piacevole e giovanile is similarly buoyed by irrepressible high spirits, Elvekjær underpinning the athletic violin figures with an athleticism of his own. The music has an irresistible moto perpetuo feel to it and the crisp recording winkles out every last detail of the score. This is a thoroughly satisfying curtain raiser, the players combining enviable technique with that elusive sense of an emerging musical personality..

The Second Sonata’s first movement is the only one I’ve ever come across marked Allegro con tiepidezza; that said, it’s anything but tepid, although there is a hint of warmth and lyricism to the writing. But not for long; at 0:38 Nielsen raises the temperature with some dazzling passages for both soloists. There is a quirkiness here – all too familiar from the symphonies – that may explain why initial reactions to this work were so lukewarm. It’s difficult to hear what gave rise to such reservations; although the sonata has its manic moments this is gifted writing, direct, economical and utterly assured at all times.

The Molto adagio is not the oasis of calm one might expect, Gjesme’s lyrical playing notwithstanding; there’s a new fieriness to the writing, now fanned now damped, that gives this movement its powerful, schizophrenic character. The violin part is especially well phrased; really, it would be hard to imagine it essayed with more panache than it is here. And what a magically quiet ending, too.

The Allegro piacevole has a free-wheeling quality to it, both soloists playing with precision and rhythmic flair. Despite the relatively close recording there’s no hint of fierceness or fatigue, even in the threatening piano chords that fade to silence at the close. Arguably the balance is rather more forward than you would expect in the confines of a concert hall, but when the results are as magnetic and compelling as this there is little reason to complain.

The solo violin part of this programme is more of an acquired taste, though. There’s no doubt about Tue Lautrup’s technical prowess in the pedagogic Prelude, Theme and Variations – listen to those powerful plucked strings in Variation 1, not to mention the Rimsky-like song of a bumble-bee in full flight. This is clearly music of great virtuosity and it will surely appeal to fiddle aficionados who appreciate the demands Nielsen makes on his soloist. That said, there are moments of poetry, especially in the trills of Variation 3 and the haunting Variation 8; and then there’s the darting, Ariel-like Variation 4 and the emphatic, hard-edged pizzicati of Variation 6.

The two-part Preludio e Presto, written near the end of Nielsen’s life, also has its virtuosic moments, albeit combined with a new-found inwardness. Is it fanciful to suggest this is more than just a display piece, and that beneath the pyrotechnics there is something darker at play? Lautrup certainly takes the music to extremes, from its high-pitched cries to its lower, almost incoherent, whispers. There’s a narrative here that is difficult to miss, even if it’s hard to pinpoint precisely. The second, much shorter movement, is rather opaque, but not without fragments of surprising wistfulness.

Newcomers to Nielsen – or those wanting to look beyond the symphonies – would do well to investigate this collection. I imagine the two sonatas will have the broadest appeal. Even I couldn’t help but marvel at – rather than revel in – the solo violin pieces, such is Lautrup’s astonishing skill. Throw in good, detailed liner-notes and a fine, clear recording and you have a very desirable disc indeed.

Dan Morgan

see review of Volume 1



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