Niels Gade’s Chamber works, Vol. 3

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COMPOSERS: Gade
LABELS: CPO
ALBUM TITLE: Gade
WORKS: Chamber works, Vol. 3: Octet; Unfinished String Quartet in F*; Allegro in A minor*
PERFORMER: Ensemble MidtVest; Danish Quartet*
CATALOGUE NO: CPO 555 077-2

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The Danish composer Niels Gade wrote his Octet soon after learning of the death of his friend and champion Mendelssohn, composer of the greatest Octet in the repertory. Not surprisingly there are times when it sounds like Mendelssohn, but it doesn’t sound at all derivative of the Octet itself. It’s a strong piece in its own right: imaginative, melodically appealing, well argued – and in the middle two movements especially, formally quite original. Its Romanticism is the contained, classicising Romanticism of Brahms (whom it sometimes anticipates) – gentler on the whole, but as with Brahms it can be seductively atmospheric. After one hearing I’d rather go back and explore this again than any Gade’s symphonies. The performance by Ensemble MidtVest sounds well prepared, but not to the point of purging affection and spontaneity, and the warm-toned recording suits the musical approach very well.

The Danish String Quartet also put up a strong case for the two early incomplete quartets. The F major Quartet doesn’t have the spark of the Octet, but the A minor, composed at 19, has something of the young Mendelssohn’s fantasy and iconoclastic freshness – what an interesting quartet it would have made.

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Stephen Johnson