Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Suite, Op.45 Den Luciferiske (1919-20) [22:46]
String Quartet No.2, Op.5 (1890) [26:14]
Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-1996)
String Quartet No.2, Op.47 (1949) [24:05]
Peter Sauermann (piano)
Musica Vitalis Quartet
rec. February 1997, Meistersingerhalle, Nuremberg (Suite) and May 1954, Copenhagen (Quartets)

Forgotten Records moves somewhat off its beaten track in this disc by conjoining a 1954 Decca coupling of quartets by Vagn Holmboe and Nielsen with a 1997 recording of the latter’s Piano Suite, Op.45, the dramatic 1919-20 Luciferiske.

This suite, dedicated to Artur Schnabel – somewhat unexpectedly perhaps - was composed in the years immediately following cessation of hostilities and presents six movements of vivid characterisation. This work can take a variety of approaches and tempi and both Roscoe, on Hyperion, and Andsnes on Virgin demonstrate that a tensile approach works extremely well. Christina Bjørkøe account on CPO takes things to the other extreme – significant latitudinal phrasing not least in the central slow movement which she takes to breaking point. In the disc under review Peter Sauermann, born in 1935, and recorded by Bavarian Radio, sounds closer to the old John Ogdon performance in that respect. He plays with tonal warmth, rounded, even and balanced. He’s by no means a fire-and-ice Nielsen exponent, presenting the music with affecting sensitivity and well controlled logic.

Whether you find FR’s coupling logical – a question Spock would have asked Kirk – is a different matter. FR has a very brief booklet biography of the pianist in German and French, and a photograph – Sauermann is a pipe smoker – so he is as much the focus as the performances of the Musica Vitalis Quartet. Decca was much taken by the Holmboe-Nielsen coupling in the mid-50s, seeing a correspondence between the composers and promoting the question of lineage. In the vast Decca Sound box I briefly reviewed a similar coupling – of different quartets, obviously – played by the Koppel Quartet. Nielsen’s 1890 Op.5 Quartet is, in any case, a very easy-going work and the Musica Vitalis, with their primarius Villy Kaer phrasing attractively, linger long enough over the slow movement to draw out its beauties. True to their name, they enjoy the freewheeling folkloric elements of the humorous and lusty finale. Holmboe’s 1949 Quartet, Op.47, is played with the kind of attention to rhythmic detail and relative speed one doesn’t always find today when contemporary groups tend to explore every nook and cranny of Holmboe’s chamber music. The Musica Vitalis are notably fast, but not brusque. This is an architecturally perceptive account, strongly attentive to the various colours and sonorities demanded, from the religioso elements of the Andante, the folksy Presto and the plein air humour of the finale. Decca’s top notch mono sound completes the job.

If you didn’t invest in that big Decca box – or even if you did – you’ll find that this release complements it nicely, and modestly.

Jonathan Woolf