Niels W. Gade’s Novelettes are charming, fresh additions to the romantic string-serenade repertoire. There are two sets, the first in F and the second in E, both dating from fairly late in Gade’s career. For those listeners who enjoy Grieg’s Holberg Suite, or the serenades of Suk, Dvorák, Tchaikovsky, and Robert Fuchs, this style will need no introduction: elegant dances, lyrical melodies which rise and fall with a cool outdoor loveliness, the minor keys used merely for spice.
A standout moment might be the beginning of the second set, with its ambiguous slow introduction opening up to brighter things; the second set also features a gorgeous andante with a fine role for the cellos. The first also opens with a lovely slow introduction, and it closes with a finale that brings to mind Mendelssohn’s Octet with its light-hearted fugato opening and perpetual-motion effects.
This isn’t exactly at the top of the string-serenade ladder, not next to Tchaikovsky, Suk, and Dvorák. It’s not even on the second rung, where Fuchs and Dag Wirén reside. The first two Fuchs serenades were just released on a gorgeous Naxos CD which I’d recommend over this one if you only buy one pretty string music disc per year. It doesn’t help that the recorded sound, analog from 1981, is slightly glassy, or that the Aarhus Chamber Orchestra’s work as an ensemble isn’t as polished as that of the best chamber orchestras we have today. Another cause for slight hesitation is the booklet note, which profiles Gade so strongly that we only get 18 words about the actual Novelettes. The CD lasts just 43 minutes.
But please notice I only said slight hesitation! This is still lovely music, fresh and totally enjoyable, and an unquestionably fine way to pass 43 minutes’ time. It’s at Brilliant’s usual bargain price. That said, the same price gets you ten minutes’ more music (and more colorful music too) on the Naxos Fuchs album; though I usually wouldn’t recommend one composer over another in a review, I do listen to my romantic string music to satisfy a particular craving, or mood, and other composers fulfil that mood better than does Niels W. Gade. Still, this is very nice, and there is nothing wrong with very nice!