Gade: Comala

Marie-Adeline Henry, Markus Eiche, Rachel Kelly, Elenor Wiman; Danish National Symphony Orchestra & Choir/Laurence Equilbey (Dacapo)

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Gade Comala
Marie-Adeline Henry (soprano), Markus Eiche (baritone), Rachel Kelly (mezzo-soprano), Elenor Wiman (alto); Danish National Symphony Orchestra & Choir/Laurence Equilbey
Dacapo 8.226125 49:10 mins

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Niels Gade’s cantata Comala was inspired by James Macpherson’s popular cycle of epic poems which the Scottish writer claimed could be directly linked back to the Celtic bard Ossian. It tells the tragic story about Comala and her beloved Fingal. When Fingal decides to go to war against his enemy Caracul, Comala mistakenly fears for his life and unfortunately dies of grief before the victorious Fingal returns home. Premiered with some success in Leipzig in 1846, Comala elicited a particularly positive critical response from Schumann who conducted the work several times in Düsseldorf. It was performed in many other countries and the text was translated into English. Yet by the end of the 19th century, Comala was virtually forgotten.

For all its undoubted melodic appeal, Comala can hardly be regarded as an unfairly neglected work. Stylistically it owes much to Mendelssohn, both in the appealing lyricism of the Gade’s vocal writing and in his subtle approach to orchestral colour. Less compelling are some of the choral numbers featuring warriors and ghostly spirits which are rather foursquare in invention. Their impact is not exactly helped by the recessed sound of the male chorus whose tenors in particular struggle to project over the orchestral texture in the most forceful passages. Nonetheless, Marie-Adeline Henry and Markus Eiche, taking on the roles of Comala and Fingal respectively, deliver committed and expressive singing, and conductor Laurence Equilbey negotiates the ebb and flow of the drama very effectively with the help of responsive playing from the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.

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Erik Levi