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Niels GADE (1817-1890)
String Sextet in E flat major, Op.44 (1863-64) 31:38]
Allegro vivace (discarded first movement of op. 44) (1863) [10:10]
Piano Trio in F major, Op.42 (1863) [20:19]
Ensemble MidtVest
rec. 2013, Knudsens, Holstebro, Denmark
CPO 777 164-2 [62:23]

This is the first volume in a Gade chamber music series from CPO. Its focus is on two works of the early 1860s, the String Sextet and the Piano Trio. The former is a substantial four-movement affair with an opening Andante section that is especially poignant before the unleashing of the Allegro vivace, with its strong contrastive thematic material. It’s inevitable that Gade should, critically speaking, run up against invidious comparisons with Mendelssohn’s chamber music. Nevertheless I think it’s unavoidable to note that parts of this opening movement, particularly, will remind you of Mendelssohn’s Octet. But that shouldn’t inhibit appreciation of this wide-ranging and fluent-sounding sextet, with its witty Scherzo in five sections, with its two trios, in Gade’s best style. Nor would one forego the pleasures of the slow movement, with its prefiguring of Dvořák in places, much less the finale’s clever cyclic referencing of earlier material to form a pleasingly interlocking unit. Gade’s sleight of hand is such that one is aware of such thematic cross-referencing without it becoming in any way oppressive. And the Mendelssohnian ending, so vibrant and punchy, is a delight. We also hear the original version of the first movement, which Gade withdrew. It’s not really clear why he did so, as it’s perfectly fine in its own right, just a little shorter, but it’s good that the music was preserved.

The Piano Trio in F major is a very slightly earlier piece, cast in four movements once again. It’s a work that combines clarity, elegance, and warmth. The sprightly and once again rather Mendelssohnian Scherzo is interesting for its employment of Gade’s trademark use of novel formal features – the scherzo proper is followed by a trio with the scherzo returning and then the trio seems to want to repeat but is abruptly cut off in favour of a resumption of the scherzo which then works as the coda. This vests the movement a sense of constant uncertainty and genial flux before the unleashing of the flowing Andantino with its quiet quotient of melancholy. The attractive sonata form finale ends a well-balanced and very pleasing work. Its unpretentiousness and lack of virtuoso presumption gives it appealing warmth and it has been extremely well served here.

The recorded sound matches the warmth of the music and the tonal breadth of the players. In the Sextet too, Gade has been fully served. These are excellent performances all-round, finely recorded and well annotated. A great start to the series.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: David Barker



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