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Niels GADE (1817-1890)
Piano Sonata in E minor, op.28 (1840/1854) [22:29]
Akvareller, op.19 (1850) [17:13]
Nye Akvareller, op.57 (1881) [12:17]
Andantino in C sharp minor (1860) [1:57]
Christina Bjørkøe (piano)
rec. Den Sorte Diamant, Copenhagen, 25-27 June 2010. CPO 777 628-2 [58.53]
Niels Gade (pronounced roughly 'gay-the' - 'the' as in 'the sonata') is better known as the composer of orchestral works, most notably his eight symphonies, all of which are now available in at least three cycles - BIS (CD-1835/36), Marco Polo/Dacapo (DCCD 9201-4) and Chandos (CHAN 9862, 9957, 9795, 10026). Gade's chamber music is also well represented on disc, especially the three violin sonatas, of which there are several recordings available for the prospective listener.
Gade's piano music has been shown less interest by musicians than other areas, but then there is less of it - indeed, as veteran Danish pianist Anker Blyme's cycle for Marco Polo (Dacapo) has shown, it fits comfortably onto three CDs (DCCD 9115, 9116, 9117). Blyme's set is twenty-odd years old now, so her compatriot Christina Bjørkøe's new recording, with better sonics, can only be welcomed.
All the discographic attention for Gade comes in spite of the sustained critical disapprobation that writing in a conservative style - as he unquestionably did - inevitably engenders. He is nowhere more 'backward'-thinking than in his piano music, as anyone listening to this delightful recital will quickly realise. Bjørkøe begins with Gade's sole Sonata, his most substantial work for piano. Initially an early piece, Gade revised it in his thirties. It now oozes poetic maturity alongside all the dreamy melodies and virtuosic excursions in the manner of Schumann. Other pianists neglect this superbly imagined work at their peril. At the other end of the programme is a discarded Andantino from it, along with a standalone Andantino in C sharp minor - both pieces are gently beautiful.
CPO have labelled the first five Akvareller (or Aquarellen, as they prefer) 'vol.1' and the second five 'vol.2', but there seems to be little justification for this - certainly the later Peters edition published in Leipzig makes no reference to more than a single volume. Bjørkøe in any case plays them straight through without any discernible break in the recording. In fact, though, Gade did return to his 'paintbox' towards the end of his life: the Nye Akvareller ('New Water Colours') was his last published work for piano. The op.19 set are all in different keys and with one exception take a different form - Elegie, Scherzo, Canzonette, Humoreske, Barcarole, Capriccio, Romanza, Intermezzo, Novelletta and Scherzo. The later cycle is more of the same, in the nicest sense - five distinct character pieces that seem to refer back to some of the earlier ones. In both cases, these are deeply atmospheric scores tinged with the nostalgia, warmth and effortless charm that characterises so much of Gade's instrumental music.
Christina Bjørkøe has made some terrific Danish recordings for Dacapo of Holmboe, Riisager, Bentzon, Koppel and others. Here she gives an account that is both romantically impassioned (Sonata) and wonderfully sensitive (Akvareller), allowing Gade's mellisonant invention to speak through her fingers. With pretty good recorded sound, this is a recital to savour, one that will appeal to anyone who, regardless of critical tutting, likes their music 'old-fashioned'.