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Niels Wilhelm GADE (1817-1890)
Chamber Works - Volume 4
Novelettes for Piano Trio Op. 29 (1853) [20:43]
String Quartet in F minor (1851) [20:52]
String Quintet in F minor (1837) [12:20]
Ensemble MidtVest
rec. 2015/17, “Knudsens”, Holstebro, Denmark
CPO 555 198-2 [54:09]

Interest in the music of the Danish composer Niels Gade seems to be growing in recent years. Some fine recordings have appeared, not least CPO’s excellent series of chamber music recordings of which this is the fourth volume. I have a number of recordings of Gade’s music and must admit to favouring his chamber music, so this series has been a real boon for me; the Ensemble MidtVest have recorded some first-class performances with excellent production values throughout, and this is disc is no different.

I must admit to never having heard the Novelettes for Piano Trio before. I know Gade’s opuses 53 and 58 Noveletten (999516-2) but these are for orchestra; I also know his op. 42 Piano Trio in F Major, as this appears on volume one (777 164-2) of this series, and I must say that I was very taken by this later work. Here, we have a set of five - six if you include both the original and the revised final movement - each of which have a colour and character all of their own. The booklet informs us that there were two editions of the Novelettes, the later version being thought of as definitive. The final version is itself an amalgamation, with movements from the earlier edition finding their way into the latter with very few changes or adaptions. For instance, the Scherzo of the earlier four movement set becomes the opening movement in the later edition, whilst the original opening piece is used to conclude the five-movement work, although here he supplies a new coda which quotes the main theme of the opening movement, thus making it cyclical. This is a very attractive work for piano trio, which I greatly enjoyed.

The String Quartet in F minor I know through the recordings of the Copenhagen String Quartet (8.224015) - who take the second movement most slowly of all – and that of the Kontra Quartet’s equally fine Bis recording (BIS-CD-516); theirs is a generally quicker reading Whilst it never sound rushed, this new recording by the MidtVest’s sounds a little more balanced and considered, although that being said, I would not be without the Kontra’s pacier performance. It is cast in the usual four movements but is unusual, as it opens with a lilting slow introduction which gradually builds to take us into the main Allegro molto section of the movement. The second movement is not really a slow movement - it is an Allegretto after all - but here it acts as one. It is a short movement and here the slower pace works better than the Kontra’s recording which is nearly forty seconds quicker. Perhaps this lack of a proper slow movement can be explained by the openings of both the first and fourth movements. It is followed by the sprightly Allegro di molto, which again is very short. The final movement again begins with a slow Andantino quasi allegretto section and a charming main theme that is repeated throughout this section and passed from one instrument to another. This is followed by the Allegro vivace section, which in reality can be seen as a movement in its own right. The main theme goes through a period of transition before a new theme is introduced, which itself transforms and finally leads us back to the main theme, and thus into the Coda.

The final work on this disc is the relatively early String Quintet in F minor; it appears on a couple of lists which I found on the internet as the third recognised work by the composer, which again is new to me; if  you look for it in any list of Gade’s works you will find it as Andante & allegro molto, F minor String quintet (2 violins, viola and 2 cellos), rather than just as String Quintet. Either way, this short work is quite effective, its lilting opening Adagio certainly pointing towards Gade’s mature and more developed style. His choice of instruments points to Schubert as an influence and it is not just in the instrumentation that this is prevalent, but for me Mendelssohn is the main influence here, especially in the allegro molto second section which is played without a break. This is an important addition to the catalogue of the composer’s works on disc, as we can hear the embryonic emergence of his own, tell-tale style.

This is an excellent CD; the performance by the Ensemble MidtVest is, as in all of their discs I know, committed and compelling, and their performance of the Quartet is slightly preferable to that of the Kontra’s on Bis. No matter what combination of instruments they use, their performance is always first rate. The recorded sound is also very good and well balanced, especially in the Novelettes, whilst the booklet notes are also excellent, making this a most valuable addition to the catalogues.

Stuart Sillitoe

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