As a fairly recent convert to Nielsen’s symphonies
– helped in no small measure by Dacapo’s splendid Michael Schønwandt
series, now reissued on Naxos – I was particularly keen to hear
the composer in chamber mode. This review disc is certainly
wide-ranging, covering as it does works from Nielsen’s early
days to his mature style. The players are unfamiliar to me,
but reading the artist biographies in the CD booklet – competitors
please note – it’s obvious they aren’t lightweights. As for
the modernist Black Diamond – opened in 1999 and so-called because
of its black marble cladding – this seems an entirely apt venue
for music of such striking modernity.
From the outset it’s clear the Op. 9 sonata –
in A major – was never going to be a crowd-pleaser; it’s bright
and forthright, the piano part particularly prominent, and Nielsen’s
penchant for changing tack without warning makes for an exhilarating
voyage. The recording is equally upfront but thankfully it’s
never strident. The Allegro glorioso has much to commend
it, not least Jon Gjesme’s sinewy violin playing. This is young
man’s music, full of passion and optimism, and even the languid
Andante speaks of rare, all-embracing contentment.
The Allegro piacevole e giovanile is similarly
buoyed by irrepressible high spirits, Elvekjær underpinning
the athletic violin figures with an athleticism of his own.
The music has an irresistible moto perpetuo feel to it
and the crisp recording winkles out every last detail of the
score. This is a thoroughly satisfying curtain raiser, the players
combining enviable technique with that elusive sense of an emerging
The Second Sonata’s first movement is the only
one I’ve ever come across marked Allegro con tiepidezza;
that said, it’s anything but tepid, although there is a hint
of warmth and lyricism to the writing. But not for long; at
0:38 Nielsen raises the temperature with some dazzling passages
for both soloists. There is a quirkiness here – all too familiar
from the symphonies – that may explain why initial reactions
to this work were so lukewarm. It’s difficult to hear what gave
rise to such reservations; although the sonata has its manic
moments this is gifted writing, direct, economical and utterly
assured at all times.
The Molto adagio is not the oasis of calm
one might expect, Gjesme’s lyrical playing notwithstanding;
there’s a new fieriness to the writing, now fanned now damped,
that gives this movement its powerful, schizophrenic character.
The violin part is especially well phrased; really, it would
be hard to imagine it essayed with more panache than it is here.
And what a magically quiet ending, too.
The Allegro piacevole has a free-wheeling
quality to it, both soloists playing with precision and rhythmic
flair. Despite the relatively close recording there’s no hint
of fierceness or fatigue, even in the threatening piano chords
that fade to silence at the close. Arguably the balance is rather
more forward than you would expect in the confines of a concert
hall, but when the results are as magnetic and compelling as
this there is little reason to complain.
The solo violin part of this programme is more
of an acquired taste, though. There’s no doubt about Tue Lautrup’s
technical prowess in the pedagogic Prelude, Theme and Variations
– listen to those powerful plucked strings in Variation
1, not to mention the Rimsky-like song of a bumble-bee in full
flight. This is clearly music of great virtuosity and it will
surely appeal to fiddle aficionados who appreciate the demands
Nielsen makes on his soloist. That said, there are moments of
poetry, especially in the trills of Variation 3 and the haunting
Variation 8; and then there’s the darting, Ariel-like Variation
4 and the emphatic, hard-edged pizzicati of Variation
The two-part Preludio e Presto, written
near the end of Nielsen’s life, also has its virtuosic moments,
albeit combined with a new-found inwardness. Is it fanciful
to suggest this is more than just a display piece, and that
beneath the pyrotechnics there is something darker at play?
Lautrup certainly takes the music to extremes, from its high-pitched
cries to its lower, almost incoherent, whispers. There’s a narrative
here that is difficult to miss, even if it’s hard to pinpoint
precisely. The second, much shorter movement, is rather opaque,
but not without fragments of surprising wistfulness.
Newcomers to Nielsen – or those wanting to look
beyond the symphonies – would do well to investigate this collection.
I imagine the two sonatas will have the broadest appeal. Even
I couldn’t help but marvel at – rather than revel in – the solo
violin pieces, such is Lautrup’s astonishing skill. Throw in
good, detailed liner-notes and a fine, clear recording and you
have a very desirable disc indeed.
review of Volume 1