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Laura NETZEL (1839-1927)
Chamber Portrait
Suite for violin and string orchestra Op.83 [15:13]
Suite for violin and piano Op.62 (pub.1897) [19:09]
Three salon pieces for piano solo Op.24 (pub.1888) [7:26]
Din frid, var han en drömgestalt for voice, violin and piano Op.61 [3:26]
Ave Maria Op.41 [3:49]
Je pense ā toi Op.46 No.4 [2:18]
Ballade Op.35 [4:00]
Voici la brise Op.55 [1:59]
Etude de concert – Feu follet Op.49 [3:10]
Malin Broman (violin)
Sabina Bisholt (soprano)
Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)
Musica Vitae Chamber Orchestra
Rec. 2021, Växjö Konserthus and Västerås Konserthus, Sweden
DB PRODUCTIONS DBCD200 [60:30]

At the Rarities of Piano Music in 2001 pianist Fredrik Ullén played Laura Netzel's sparkling etude la fileuse (available on DACOCD589). This was my introduction to this Finnish composer and up to now my only exposure so I am glad that this CD has come my way. Its mixture of piano solos, songs and chamber works affords us a rounded portrait of this talented composer who, despite having been born in Rantasalmi in Finland, spent only one year there before her parents moved to Stockholm and it was here that she made her lifelong home.

Listening to this genial, melodic and idiomatic music it is hard to comprehend a Danish critic's opinion of one of her pieces as to put it mildly dreadful. Other complaints concerned the complexity of her music and one has to wonder what they were accustomed to hearing. From the first strains of the Suite for violin and string orchestra Op.83 Netzel shows herself as a gifted melodist and though there is nothing here that strikes new paths her music is fresh and imaginative and sumptuously written for the instruments. Op.83 consists of four movements that were written earlier and first published as individual pieces for violin and piano (as opp. 33, 37, 38 and 59); while it is suggested that a violinist had refined the violin parts for Netzel prior to publication the same can be said of several composers who have benefitted from the guidance of musicians more proficient in the instrument than themselves. The movements are an andante religioso which has something of the feel of Svendson's violin Romance about it, a Humoresque, a jaunty and light-hearted country dance a Berceuse with echoes of Grieg in the rhythm of its long flowing melody and a sunny Tarantella bringing the Suite to a close.

The Suite for violin and piano is longer and more advanced in its concept and harmony. Still gloriously romantic there are some wonderful moments; the first movement's more lyrical second theme heralds its appearance in G flat major but no sooner has it arrived there than there is a brief modulation and we are in D major. This itself is a short visit before we are back in G flat and a move into the passionate and virtuosic development section. This is beautiful and dramatic music; the opening melody of the second movement could have been written by Grieg and Netzel has a deft touch as she develops it texturally and harmonically, especially the delicate reprise at the end of the movement. It bookmarks slightly faster more playful music that shows off the seamless interaction between violin and piano, not that the first movement left any doubt on that score. The last movement has a moto perpetuo feel to it with a striking angular theme. A slower section briefly interrupts with the legato rising song of the violin punctuated by a syncopated piano accompaniment. This violin song reappears as part of the moto perpetuo with more exciting interplay between the instrumentalists.

It is very clear from the evidence that Laura Netzel was a gifted writer for the piano and was apparently a talented pianist. She made her debut with the once popular G minor piano concerto by Ignaz Moscheles and studied with Mauritz Gisiko and Anton Door (1833-1919) who also taught Pavel Pabst and Alexander von Zemlinsky. Her salon pieces, a prelude, étude and scherzoso are not as slight as the name might suggest; with hints of Schumann in their make-up they are an attractive set, especially the sinuous étude with its devilish running left hand. On its own stands Feu Follet (will of the wisp), a charming and delicate concert etude/spinning song that could have come from the pen of Moriz Moszkowski.

The rest of the album is taken up with several of Netzel's songs, all published during the 1890s with the exception of the unpublished Ballade. This Ballade, a setting of Erik Burgh, tells of a wounded knight nursed back to health at a convent while the sister prays at his bedside. She weeps inside, as the roses bloom in the convent and the knight returns to his castle and his love, leaving the sister to her prayers and sorrow, ending with her bestowing the convent's last rose on his bride. The setting captures the narrative of the story, with the piano ably describing the return of spring as well as the health of the knight in its restless writing and the sudden modulation to F sharp major after 4 verses of D major. The ending is tranquil though a little of the sister's sadness creeps in in the singer's final notes. The Ave Maria is a simple setting with echoes of Franck's Panis Angelicus and Je pense a toi is a short litany of all that reminds the singer of her love, a love that will last as her words I think of you are whispered from beyond the grave. I feel that whilst Sabina Bisholt has a lovely clear voice the interpretations are a bit distant and this song in particular brings that out. I get no sense from her that this is her love she is talking about or that the words mean anything personal to her. She gives more sense of engagement in the other songs, especially the barcarolle-like Voici le brise.

I have very much enjoyed getting to know Laura Netzel a little more through this generous selection. Malin Broman and Simon Crawford-Phillips play with great commitment and fire and the Suite op.62 would be a welcome addition to a recital. Indeed anyone searching for a 19th century female composer would do well to explore the music of this imaginative composer. I have to say that more recordings of her chamber music or her piano pieces in particular would not go amiss.

Rob Challinor



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