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Niels W. GADE (1817-1890)
Chamber Works - Volume 3
Octet in F major, Op. 17 (1884) [32:07] Unfinished String Quartet in F major (1840) [18:09]
String Quartet Movement in A minor (1836) [5:07]
Ensemble MidtVest
Danish String Quartet
rec. Hearing Museum of Contempory Art, Denmark, December 2013 (quartets), Knudsens, Holstebro, Denmark. January 2015 (octet)
CPO 555077-2 [55:58]

Niels Gade is regarded as the most important Danish composer before Nielsen, and this despite the less than auspicious reception of his music at home; after his Symphony No. 1 was rejected for performance in Copenhagen he sent it to Mendelssohn in Leipzig where it was received enthusiastically and performed. His music is romantic in nature with more than a hint of Mendelssohn’s influence about it, especially after he moved to Leipzig to become a teacher in the conservatory and assistant conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, as well as great friends with Mendelssohn.

His music has received many fine recordings over the years, especially the symphonies, with this disc representing volume three of a projected complete survey of his chamber music; sadly I only have the first volume (777 164-2) which offers an excellent performance of the String Sextet Op. 44 and the Piano Trio Op. 42, both of which date from the period of composition after 1848 which has become known as his ‘romantic nationalism’ period.

The F major Octet is cast in four movements and is a substantial work, which can be seen as homage to his great friend Mendelssohn, who had died the previous year. Its instrumentation and style is influenced by his friend, but this is unmistakably Gade’s music, music that shows his own mature compositional fingerprints throughout. It is bold and bright, with no sign of this being an in memoriam piece in the true sense, with even the slow second movement not being funereal piece. Rather, this is a work in which Gade has paid homage to Mendelssohn in a sincere way by taking his friend’s model for a string octet and making it his own.

The next work on this disc is the Unfinished String Quartet in F major, sometimes known as ''Willkommen und Abschied'', and here I have problems with this recording. Since the booklet notes clearly state that “the fifth section of the Scherzo-Serenade is incomplete and cannot be reconstructed in such a way as to meet scholar standards,” and for this reason it has not been included on this recording. I call it a sin of omission, as I came to enjoy this lovely work in the recording by the excellent Kontra Quartet for Bis (BIS-CD-545), and there an edited version by Richard Karpen is presented, which whilst not ideal, does present the extant music of the third movement in a performable fashion, something I missed when I first listened to this present disc.   Both the Unfinished String Quartet in F major and the String Quartet Movement in A minor, which may or may not have been intended as part of a complete quartet, give the listener, especially one who likes the string quartet as much as I do, a sense of ‘what if’. Yes these are relatively early works that show the development of the mature style from the late classical to the romantic, but both are valuable and present some lovely music. This is music which shows great style and ability, music which should be enjoyed, and not just as a curio in a collection of complete chamber music.  

The performances are first rate throughout; they are strong and well articulated, with the quartet of string players of the Ensemble MidtVest once again showing what an exceptional band they are, and not just in the Octet, as it is them and not the Danish String Quartet who perform both works for string quartet. The notes and recorded sound are both excellent. My only caveat being the performance of the Kontra Quartet, which is equally as committed, and not only do the offer all the music recorded here, including the extant third movement of the String Quartet in F major, but also the Andante and Allegro in F minor for string quintet too.

Stuart Sillitoe



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