The word 'complete' has never seemed less appropriate in the
title of a CD. The programme may include every work that Niels
Gade wrote for piano trio, but the number of these projects
that actually made it through to a complete form is surprisingly
low. There is the Op.42 Piano Trio, which holds together well
enough. Then there are the 'Novelettes' Op.29, a work that seems
to aspire to the coherency of a classical piano trio, and that
the composer had a few goes at reorganising to that effect,
but without any real success. The rest of the programme is made
up of orphaned movements, either discards or remnants of projects
that never got any further.
Not that issues of overall structure should spoil our enjoyment
of the individual movements, which for the most part hold together
very well. There is nothing all that radical about the style
of this music; for the most part we are talking about elegant,
although rarely memorable melodies, supported by idiomatic but
unadventurous accompanying figures. The internal structure of
movements tends to be articulated by minor changes of tempo
and dynamic, so there are few extreme contrasts, and the passion
beneath this music, such as it is, is always very much tempered.
Gade was from Denmark, and the accepted wisdom is that his early
music is in a Nordic vein, which he turned away from when he
went to study in Leipzig, a town then dominated by Mendelssohn.
But these trios tell a different story. The First Movement for
a Piano Trio, which was written in 1839 pre-dates his trip to
Saxony, yet is the most Mendelssohn-influenced of the lot. It
is perhaps unfair to describe it as a second-rate knock-off
of Mendelssohn's own piano trios, and anyway, the Mendelssohn
works are so great, that even a pale imitation like this still
has the potential to be great music.
The visit to Leipzig may have cured Gade of some of his adoration
for Mendelssohn, but that was soon to be replaced by a similar
devotion to Schumann. The result, for most of the other works
on this disc, is a style that flits between the two composers.
The Op.42 Trio demonstrates how Schumann's influence had the
effect of making Gade's chamber music more sophisticated and
more texturally dense. The Novelettes also display this increased
textural richness and a little more adventurousness with the
shape and proportions of the melodic lines. The Scherzo for
Piano Quartet is the earliest work on the disc, dating from
1836, and is very much juvenilia, its textures the simplest
of any of the works (despite the added viola) and the thematic
material the least developed.
The Trio Parnassus are an adventurous group when it comes to
programming, and this disc follows similar forays into the neglected
trios of Korngold and Reger. The performances are committed
and lyrical. There are occasional tuning problems between the
violin and cello, but the balance is good and the ensemble is
excellent. The recorded sound is very rounded, adding to the
coherence of the audio image, but obscuring the finer details,
especially in relation to the piano. It seems as if the microphones
have been placed well back, and while the resulting sound is
certainly warm, it lacks any real sense of intimacy.
Perhaps the recording engineers are doing the composer a favour.
The sound-world of this music sits somewhere between the Classical
and the Romantic, and it often seems that the composer is unsure
himself about how much Romantic abandon he can risk in these
otherwise quite formal structures. Trio Parnassus go some way
towards encouraging him into the 19th century proper
with their often expansive and always melodic readings. By presenting
the music in the same audio environment as they previously have
Korngold and Reger, MDG take that final step on the composer's