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Niels GADE (1817-1890)
Aquarellen, Op. 19 Vol. 1 (1849) [7:24]
Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 28 (1839-54) [21:31]
Aquarellen, Op. 19 Vol. 2 (1850) [8:41]
Volkstänze. Phantasiestücke, Op. 31 (1855) [10:42]
Aquarel, (1876) [1:48]
Aquarellen (Neue Folge). Kleine Tonbilder, Op. 57 (1881) [12:09]
Chanson danoise (Danish song), (1885) [1:54]
Marianna Shirinyan (piano)
rec. The Queens Hall, The Black Diamond, The Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen, December 2016/January 2017.
DACAPO 8.226122 [64:09]

The piano music of Niels Gade played an important role in fostering his popularity as a composer, and this despite the fact that he was not a pianist composer, his own instrument being the violin. Indeed, the first CD that solely presented his music that I bought was a disc of his piano works performed by Elisabeth Westenholz on the Kontrpunkt label (32097). Despite his preference for the violin over the piano, his piano music is rich and colourful. It has been suggested that his affinity with the piano was honed by his many years as an organist.

Most of the music presented on this CD is duplicated on the Westenholz disc, and there is an automatic preference here in the way that the Dacapo engineers have given a separate track to each piece of music, something lacking on the Kontrpunkt where even the four movements of the Piano Sonata only receive a single track. This makes the Shirinyan recording preferable from the start, and that is before we get to the performance.

The Piano Sonata is the most important work here. It was composed over many years and many revisions were made until Gade was finally satisfied. Some of these revisions came about after seeing Franz Liszt, the work’s ultimate dedicatee, perform in Copenhagen in 1841. Liszt later stated that he thought the Sonata to be beautiful. The Sonata is cast in the style of Schumann and stands well alongside his sonatas, with both Westenholz and Shirinyan giving very good performances. Shirinyan, unlike Westenholz, places the Sonata between the two books of the op. 19 Aquarellen. I feel this works better than presenting it first, since it gives the Sonata more prominence whilst also placing it in context with the other piano pieces presented here.

The rest of this disc is mainly taken up with Gade’s three books of Aquarellen. These “Little Tone-Pictures” have been likened to the Lieder ohne Worte by his great friend Felix Mendelssohn. This is no mean comparison, as it was these pieces which fuelled the latter’s popularity, since they were seen as being for the gifted amateur and professional pianist alike. Gade’s are charming miniatures. Like the Mendelssohn, they are rooted in the romantic idiom and deserve a wider audience. Here they are given a sparkling performance by Shirinyan.

The Volkstänze, Phantasiestücke and the Chanson danoise can be described as folk inspired Aquarellen, their seemingly effortless charm winning me over from my first hearing. Unlike the Aquarellen, which are grouped in fives, the Volkstänze is a group of four very attractive pieces which are again romantic in nature.

The performances by Marianna Shirinyan are slightly preferable to those of Elisabeth Westenholz. When we take into account the improved sound – the 1991 Kontrpunkt recording now sounds a little dated in comparison – and the banding issue already discussed, this Dacapo disc is a real winner. Excellent and informative notes accompany the recording. Let us hope that Dacapo and Marianna Shirinyan get together to present more of the piano music of Niels Gade.

Stuart Sillitoe


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