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Concertos From 19th Century Denmark
Friedrich KUHLAU (1786-1832)
Concertino for two French horns, op. 45 (c. 1822) [22:03]
Overture to William Shakespeare, op. 74 [1825/6] [10:19]
Christian Frederik BARTH (1787-1861)
Oboe concerto, op. 12 (c. 1823) [12:28]
Niels GADE (1817-1890)
Capriccio in A minor for violin and orchestra (1878, orch. Carl Reinecke) [9:06]
Lisa Maria Cooper, Flemming Aksnes (French horn)
Oliver Nordahl (oboe)
Ian van Rensburg (violin)
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Jean Thorel
rec. 2018, Symfonisk Sal, Musikhuset Aarhus
Premiere recording (Barth)
Reviewed in stereo
DACAPO SACD 6.220664 [53:56]

This is certainly one for the aficionado of the unsung composer and composition. While Gade and Kuhlau, particularly the former, do have some presence in the catalogue, they are certainly a rarity in the new releases section. Barth is a complete unknown: a quick check shows this concerto to be one of only three pieces of his that are available; all feature the oboe.

Kuhlau’s concertino followed a trip to Hamburg where he met the famous soloist Joseph Gugl, and the work was dedicated to him and his horn-playing son, though they didn’t get to premiere it. It is in five movements, the fourth being a cutdown version of the second movement Polacca. With the work being divided up into this number of sections, it means that none outstays its welcome, often a problem I find in works by composers below the very best. While horn concertos aren’t on my playlist very often, I found plenty to enjoy in this, particularly in the two slow movements. The faster sections give the soloists more opportunities in which to show off, but for me, it tends to be a lot of burbling and other less than musical noises.

The booklet is silent on the reasons for inclusion of the Shakespeare overture since it is certainly not a concerto. The work was written for a play by the little-known Danish playwright Caspar Boye, based on a possibly true story from Shakespeare’s youth. The notes mention the “incidental music” but are not clear in whether this overture was part of a larger work, or an independent piece. It is a most enjoyable work, easily the best on the recording - which is perhaps unfortunate, given the disc’s title - with verve and energy, but what is perhaps most notable are several moments where you could be listening to Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream overture. Why is that notable? Simply because this piece predates Mendelssohn’s by a few months!

Christian Frederik Barth was one of the most significant members of a dynasty of oboists. He was a member of the Royal Chapel in Copenhagen for more than half his life, and there are a number of contemporary reports praising his playing and compositions. This concerto has a most unusual structure, starting with an Adagio and progressing up in tempo through a Moderato to an Allegro. It is elegant and tuneful, and could have been written thirty or forty years earlier. It is a pleasant twelve minutes but doesn’t stay in the memory too long afterwards.

Given the amount of time Niels Gade spent in the company of Felix Mendelssohn, the stylistic connections of this Capriccio to Mendelssohn’s concerto are hardly surprising. The expressive middle section doesn’t have the emotional intensity of the Mendelssohn, but this is titled Capriccio after all, so a lightness of touch is totally appropriate.

Performance- and production-wise, this release cannot be faulted. Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city, but with a population of only 330,000, it is to be envied for the quality of its orchestra.

This is certainly not going to be an essential purchase for many, but it is an enjoyable enough way to spend an hour … no, wait, it’s quite a bit less than an hour, which in this day and age isn’t really good enough. Surely there was another Danish concerto (or not even a concerto) of the time that could have been included.

David Barker

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