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Danish & Romanian pieces
Mihaela Oprea (violin)
Jakob Alsgaard Bahr (piano)
rec. 2018, Alsion, Sønderborg-Denmark
DANACORD DACOCD831 [56:06]

The Romanian violinist Mihaela Oprea has delved deeply into the repertoire to discover this stunning selection of violin music. She writes that it is a tribute to her musical heroes, Itzhak Perlman, Renaud Capuçon, Joshua Bell and Kim Sjøgren. Going back further in time, I guess that many of these short pieces could have been in the repertoire of Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Eugène Ysaÿe and Wandy Tworek.

Oprea has chosen seven pieces by Danish composers and seven by Romanian. This reflects the two diverse cultures which “are closest to [her] heart”.

I want to look at what are the highlights of this disc (for me). I suggest that the listener is a little selective with the track selection. There is a danger that a fascinating CD like this is just played and half-heard in the background whilst driving or doing the washing up. Although I guess that there are few life-changing works on this CD, several of these pieces are minor masterpieces in virtuosic and idiomatic writing for the violin.

I began my exploration with the delightful ‘Tango Jalousie’ by Jacob Gade – apparently no relation to the other Gades of Danish music. I have remarked before that this is one of those works that the listener feels that they have always known. Equally attractive is Romanian Grigora I. Dinicu’s ‘Hora Staccato’ (1906) which is a wonderfully Max Jaffa-like piece that fairly stomps along, involving a “rather complicated bow technique”. It was made famous by Heifetz in the 1939 film They Shall Have Music. Why do we not hear encores of music like this at recitals?

Niels W. Gade is usually overshadowed by Carl Nielsen in our understanding of Danish Music. He has eight excellent symphonies to his name, the Overtures ‘In the Highlands’ and ‘Echoes of Ossian’ and much chamber music. He was a proficient violinist.

I enjoyed the ‘Brudevalsen’ (Bridal Waltz) from Gade’s ballet, Et Folkesagn (A Folk Tale). This has become (for better or worse) his most popular piece and is apparently a staple of wedding celebrations in Denmark. There is nothing complex or profound about this music: it is quite simply a delight.

The opening track on the CD is also by Gade. The Capriccio for violin and piano was composed in 1861 when the composer was in his forties. The work was later orchestrated by Carl Reinecke. Like much of the music on this CD, it is the technical skill of the soloist that is the most important thing in the execution of this piece.

Talking about Carl Nielsen, he is represented on this CD by two short works. The first, a Romance is taken from ‘Fantasy Pieces’ for oboe and piano, arranged for violin and piano by Hans Sitt. The original was written around 1881 shortly after Nielsen had been appointed as a regimental musician in the city of Odense. The present work is a thoughtful little piece with just the occasional hint of the composer’s subsequent achievement. The second Nielsen piece is a magical arrangement of a song: ‘Sænk kun dit hoved du blomst’ (‘Only lower your head you flower’). It was to have been part of a cantata but was subsequently released as a standalone song. The present arrangement is based on one for flute and harp by Flemming Neergaard Pedersen.

Romanian composer George Enescu has two numbers here. The first is the almost impressionistic ‘Impromptu Concertant’. It has elements of his native folk-music and well as an overpowering sense of “nostalgia and longing for his homeland”. Enescu’s ‘Balada’ is not discussed in the liner notes – except to mention that it was composed when he was only 14 years old. It is a thoughtful piece, that is surprisingly mature for his years, but does not yet proclaim his deep interest in folk-music.

One final work I choose to single out is the beautiful ‘Serenada’ (1937) by Mircea Chiriac. This piece was the Romanian composer’s shy declaration of love to a colleague at the Conservatoire. As it turned out, the tune did the trick: they were married and lived ‘happily ever after.’

Mihaela Oprea is currently the concert master at the Danish Philharmonic Orchestra, South Denmark. She was born in “the beautiful town of Brașov [in] Romania and [has been] living in the wonderful Denmark since 1999”.

The liner notes give a good introduction to each work, however the date of several of these works has not been provided. I have included these in the track listing where I was able to find it easily. There are the usual artist biographies and photographs. The print is very small, so I was blessed with a .pdf file for the preparation of this review. The track listing on the CD inlay is difficult to read: red lettering on a blue and brown photo tends to blur: I needed a magnifying glass to see what was being played.

I enjoyed this selection of highly-entertaining music for violin and piano. Some of it is virtuosic: some just simply charming. The playing is always outstanding. Mihaela Oprea and Danish born Jakob Alsgaard Bahr make a superb team. Do not expect major masterpieces: just music that is hugely enjoyable and every so often quite special.

John France

Disc contents

Niels W. GADE (1817-1890)
Capriccio (1861) [8:54]
George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Impromptu Concertant (1903) [5:29]
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Romance from Fantasy pieces [3:09]
Constantin C. NOTTARA (1890-1951)
Siciliana op.1 no.1 [3:56]
Carl NIELSEN
Sænk kun dit hoved, du blomst [2:23]
Ciprian PORUMBESCU (1853-1883)
Balada [7:05]
Constantin DIMITRESCU (1847-1928)
Dans taranesc op.15 (Bondedans) [2:52]
Mircea CHIRIAC (1919-1994)
Serenada (1937) [4:12]
Egil HARDER (1917-1997)
Romance no.1 in D Major (1982) [2:10]
Fini HENRIQUES (1867-1940)
Wiegenlied (Vuggevise) (1915) [2:11]
George ENESCU
Balada (1895) [4:11]
Niels W. GADE
Brudevalsen fra Et folkesagn (c.1854) [2:35]
Grigoras I. DINICU (1889-1949)
Hora Staccato (1906) [2:04]
Jacob GADE (1879-1963)
Tango Jalousie (1925) [3:51]



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