WORKS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor; Hamlet Overture; Echoes of Ossian Overture
PERFORMER: Danish National RSO/Dmitri Kitaenko
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9422 DDD
Niels Gade was Denmark’s leading 19th-century composer, as well as an important figure on the central European scene. When his First Symphony was rejected in Copenhagen, he sent it to Mendelssohn, who gave its premiere in Leipzig, in 1843. Gade’s musicianship was admired by both Mendelssohn and Schumann, and following Mendelssohn’s death he was appointed chief conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra.
Running through Gade’s Symphony is the melody of his earlier setting of a Danish poem about the medieval King Waldemar (immortalised in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder). Alas, Gade’s folk-style tune is neither sufficiently distinguished nor symphonic enough to sustain so large a structure; and much of the Symphony’s remaining material, with its repetitive sequential patterns, is similarly unmemorable.
Much more impressive are the two overtures. The evocative Echoes of Ossian was Gade’s official Op. 1, and here the opening folk melody generates considerably more tension. The Hamlet Overture, with its concluding funeral march, was one of Gade’s later Leipzig works. Kitaenko conducts fine performances of both pieces (his recording of the Ossian Overture has been available before, coupled with Gade’s large-scale cantata The Elf-King’s Daughter), but the Symphony needs a tauter rein as well as a more positive contribution from the brass section. Misha Donat