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Niels GADE (1817-1890)
Chamber Works – Volume 2
String Quartet in E minor (1877/1889) [20:23]
Discarded movements from quartet: Allegro non troppo [6:35]; Andantino con moto [4:39]
Piano Trio movement in B flat major (1839) [13:54]
Scherzo for Piano Quartet in C sharp minor (1836) [9:30]
Ensemble Midtvest
rec. 2013, Herning Museum of Contemporary Art (quartet, trio), “Knudsens” (Holstebro) (scherzo)
CPO 777 165-2 [57:45]

I welcomed the first in this series last year (review), anticipating a number of extra volumes of genial pleasure; the booklet here mentions Volume 5. It is good that we haven’t been made to wait too long for the next one, something that cannot always be said with CPO: the Louis Glass symphonies (review ~ review) come to mind.

Given the amount of chamber music that Gade wrote - see my review of the first volume - this new release surprises me in a couple of ways. Firstly, that we are accorded such short measure – surely there are works less than twenty-four minutes long that could be have been included. Secondly, four of the eight tracks are fragments of incomplete works or discarded movements. Could the former have been better employed separately as disc fillers?

Gade wrote five string quartets, three early in his career, but only published one - the op. 63 in D major. That is the simplified version of the story. However, the genesis of the two mature quartets - the D major and the E minor work presented here - is rather more complicated. They have the same gestation period - begun in 1877, revised in 1889 - and in each case, the original first movement is not present in the final version. Indeed, the first two movements of the 1877 version of the E minor quartet were discarded, and replaced by a transposed version of the first movement from the D major. The D major then got an entirely new opening movement. Still with me? If you have the Kontra Quartet’s recording of the E minor quartet on BIS, you will find that it is the 1877 five-movement version, which would seem to make this CPO one a premiere recording, though it is not indicated as such.

So what of the music itself? You can be fairly confident with Gade that you are going to get melodious music, probably not especially memorable, and almost certainly with a strong hint of Mendelssohn. The first and last of those certainly applies to the quartet, but to describe it as “not especially memorable” would be doing it a disservice. This strikes me as one of the best Gade works I’ve heard, with the Allegretto and Finale particularly fine. The two discarded movements have some appeal, but there is no doubt that Gade strengthened the work substantially with his changes.

The Piano Trio movement comes from a very early work, which was never completed, and indeed this movement needed some reconstruction with 24 bars missing their piano part. The original manuscript – in reality, his diary – bears a number of inscriptions, implying that the work had a programme connected to the travails of an unnamed “hero”. Admittedly, the programme text is crossed out, so it may be that Gade changed his mind. This predates his discovery of Mendelssohn, and reminds me more of Beethoven and Schubert, but lacks the drama of the former and the melting lyricism of the latter. The Scherzo is an even earlier work than the trio – Gade is still in his teens – and is genial and not especially scherzo-like.

As before, I am very happy with the tonal qualities of the members of the Ensemble Midtvest, but again, I feel there were instances where a little more vigour might have aided the music. The Vivace marking for the Piano quartet certainly isn’t paid much heed. The booklet notes are very good; gone it seems are the days where CPO produced some very dubious translations, and the audio quality is natural.

The inclusion of these four “fragments” is more about completeness and documentary value than musical quality. Undoubtedly, the discarded quartet movements logically belong with the final version, but I question the need for the others also to find their way onto this disc. Gade completists will be delighted, but for those buying the disc on its musical merits alone, the presence of only a single complete work may be a deterrent.

David Barker



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