Svendsen/Nielsen

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COMPOSERS: Svendsen/Nielsen
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: String Octet in A, Op. 3; Romance for Violin, Op. 26; String Quintet in G
PERFORMER: Kenneth Sillito (violin)Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9258 DDD
Although recordings of the Svendsen Octet and Nielsen Quintet are scarce, the ASMF Chamber Ensemble faces apt competition from Scandinavian sources. Svendsen’s Octet is an early work, undertaken (alongside his A minor Quartet and Op. 5 String Quintet) during studies in Leipzig, and premiered there in 1866. Progressive in style, yet unmistakably Nordic in spirit, the work attests to the composer’s admiration of Beethoven; a sul ponticello episode in the second movement is immediately reminiscent of the celebrated passage in the Presto of Beethoven’s Op. 131 Quartet. There’s no shortage of virtuoso writing elsewhere; the Academy members are superior to their otherwise reliable Norwegian colleagues (led by Arve Tellefsen, on the NKF label) in the taxing finale alone. As Robin Golding’s booklet note suggests, Svendsen’s String Octet has but one 19th-century parallel: Mendelssohn’s Op. 20. Even without the latter’s youthful brilliance, the Svendsen can reward the attentive listener.

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Carl Nielsen, whose First Symphony was introduced by Svendsen in 1894, sided with the majority when composing his G major Quintet four years later. Like his four mature quartets, also dating from 1888, this is a highly concentrated, strongly mobile and exuberant work. Fine as it is, this new performance lacks the insight, incisiveness and idiomatic flair of the Kontra Quartet (on BIS). But with Kenneth Sillito’s delectable account of the Svendsen Romance providing an ideal foil to the larger works included, this Chandos issue warrants commendation. Michael Jameson