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Niels Wilhelm GADE (1817-1890)
Chamber Works Vol. 5
Fantasiestücke Op. 43 for Clarinet and Piano (1864) [11:23]
String Quartet in D major, Op. 63 (1887) [22:48]
String Quintet Op. 8 (1845) [31:28]
Ensemble MidtVest
rec. 15 December 2015 (Op. 43), “Knudsens” (Holstebro), Midtjylland, Denmark; 17-18 December 2015 (Op. 8), 11-13 January 2016 (Op. 63), HEART – Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Herning, Denmark
CPO 555 199-2 [65:59]

The Ensemble MidtVest’s survey of Niels Gade’s chamber music has proven to be a most valuable series, and this disc is no different. The series introduces the listening public to the great Danish romantic composer’s works, which may have not travelled well outside his native country. I have met for the first time, for example, the delightful four Fantasy Pieces for Clarinet and Piano Op. 43, even if they had been recorded before. So, the survey is important to all fans of Gade’s music and of mid-19th-century romantic North-European music in general.

The disc opens with those Fantasiestücke from 1864. Each piece – they all have a degree of elegance and poise – is in ternary form, and is beautifully melodic. The third piece, Ballade. Moderato, is the largest and most complex in structure, giving plenty of scope for the clarinet to sing above the piano.

There follows one of Gade’s most recorded chamber pieces, the String Quartet No. 1, Op. 63. Its draft was completed between July and September 1887. In February 1888, Gade gave the work a “final polishing”. It included a new first movement in D major (the original was in d minor), so changing the tonal plan of the Quartet. This revision also included a change to the second movement scherzo, dated June 1889. Because of these revisions and polishings, it was not until April 1890 that deeply romantic and melodic work appeared as the composer’s Op. 63, the version we have here. It is the only string quartet Gade published. After the refinements, it passed the composer’s stringent self-criticism. He entrusted it to the young composer, Louis Glass, who was allowed to take it to Leipzig, where it was published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1889, some 53 years after Gade’s first attempt to compose a string quartet. This further adds to the adage that writing string quartets was an older mans game.

This is my third recording of the String Quartet. It stands well against that of the Copenhagen Quartet (Naxos 8.224015). In the Kontra Quartet’s version on BIS (BIS-CD-516), I find an over-indulgent Andante, poco lento. At 7:02 it is just too long; the Ensemble MidtVest get it just right. The sound is better too!

The final work on this disc, in some respects the most intriguing, is the String Quintet in e minor, Op.8 from 1845. It is an elusive item to track down; the Johannes Ensemble’s recording (Kontrapunkt 32121) is the only version I could find. The work’s more traditional four-movement structure is an ideal counter to the single-movement String Quintet in F minor (it can be found on volume 4 of the Ensemble MidtVest’s series, CPO 555 198-2). This Quintet dates from between the Second and Third Symphonies. It inhabits the same easy melodic national romantic style, making it easy to like and enjoy. The slow opening Andante con molto belies the overall joy of the work. The pacing of the Quintet is much better than that of the Johannes Ensemble’s recording, which is five minutes quicker and now sounds rushed in comparison. The MidtVest’s recording of this joyous music is the one to go for.

This addition to the catalogue of Niels Gade’s chamber music, is the equal of all that has gone before in this excellent series. A real winner for all devotees of Gade’s music, the disc will appeal to anyone with a liking for 19th-century romantic chamber music. The recorded sound is excellent, better than the other Gade recordings I mentioned. The booklet notes, as usual in this series, are highly informative. This is a most enjoyable and pleasing release.

Stuart Sillitoe



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