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Niels GADE (1817-1890)
Chamber Music - Volume 1
String Sextet in E flat major, op. 44 (1864) [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
Reviewed as 16-bit lossless download from
CPO 777 164-2 [62:23]

That this is described as Volume 1 of the chamber music of Niels Gade is certainly good news. He is a sufficiently important composer, especially in Denmark, to deserve such an accolade. By my reckoning, we are due at least three more volumes, as there are three violin sonatas, four string quartets, the Novellette for trio, a quintet and an octet for strings, Fantasiestücke for clarinet and piano — very much an odd-one out in his oeuvre — and a deal of juvenilia. Few of these have had many recordings. It is fair to say that one does not expect to encounter any masterpieces here, rather a great deal of genial pleasure.

The series begins with two mature works from a time in Gade’s career where he had passed through his enthusiasms for Danish nationalism and Felix Mendelssohn, and found him developing his own voice, though now Schumann is certainly a background influence. The String Sextet was begun in 1863, and substantially revised in 1864, with the original first movement jettisoned. The new first movement begins with a slow introduction, leading into the main section dominated by an infectiously swaying main theme. The scherzo is in five sections, with two different trios interspersed with the active, though musically dull scherzo – it is the least appealing of the four movements. The slow movement brings the dark tones of the violas and cellos to the fore, while the final movement revisits the themes from the first. Despite reservations about the scherzo, this is a fine work, though not in the same league as the two Brahms sextets.

Gade did not destroy the original first movement of the sextet, apparently because he was satisfied with it as music, but not with how it fitted into the rest of the work. It is certainly totally different to its replacement, despite sharing the Allegro vivace marking. Much of its ten minutes is anything but vivace or even allegro, but as a standalone work, it is quite a charming piece.

The Piano Trio in F is Gade’s final work for this genre, following a juvenile trio and the Novellette, which is perhaps his best known chamber work. Graceful rather than animated is the adjective that strikes me as appropriate for the first movement Allegro animato. The next movements pass by very quickly, comprising less than six minutes in total. The second is bright and breezy, the third quite intense by Gade’s standards. The booklet suggests that it is better seen as an slow introduction to the finale, but since it is not played attaca, and would leave the work with three allegros, I’m not sure I can agree. Gade marks the final movement as Allegro con fuoco, but I don’t find much fire in the performance. A 2011 MDG release of the complete trios (and a fragment of a piano quartet) by Trio Parnassus was reviewed here. I’m not able to compare that with this new recording, but my experiences with Trio Parnassus have been positive regarding their enterprise in choice of repertoire, but less so for their performances.

Ensemble MidtVest possibly show a little too much restraint at times, for example the trio finale, but since Gade is not usually given to bold and dramatic statements, it is not entirely inappropriate. The sound quality is satisfactory without being particularly detailed, but the tonal qualities of the instruments is excellent. The notes are brief, and say little about the historical context of the works, concentrating on musical analysis. Of course, it may be that there is little known about these two works. At least the full booklet has been supplied, unlike my last experience with a CPO download (Louis Glass symphonies) where only the cover pages were included.

David Barker


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