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Guy Rickards
Gramophone, December 2009

Three lyrical and pleasing Danish concertos that will handsomely repay investigation

Christina Astrand plays all three works with consummate skill, sweetness of tone and a feel for line. John Storgards, himself no mean violinist, secures sympathetic accompaniments from the Tampere Philharmonic, and with Dacapo’s excellent sound these accounts are now the front runners for each work.

Matthew Rye
The Strad, November 2009

Niels Gade’s 1880 Concerto, written for Joachim two years after the Brahms, is effusive in melody…P. E. Lange-Müller’s more Grieg-imbued work from 1902 has a richer palette and is capped by a delightfully dancing finale; and Rued Langgaard’s Concertos, though sounding profoundly anachronistic for a work written in 1944, has Straussian warmth and a fresh touch in the prominence given to the piano.

The soloist, Christina Åstrand, has been leader of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra for 13 years, although she is still in her mid-30s…it becomes easy to warm to the sheer charisma she brings to the performance of these three works. The Gade, in particular, id played with the kind of commitment and lithe ease more often reserved for the greats of the repertoire. She’s particularly well-balanced with the orchestra…

Donald R Vroon
American Record Guide, November 2009

…the engineering leaves nothing to be desired. The violinist manages all the music with ease…Gade himself was a violinist, and he wrote his concerto for Joachim, who gave the premiere—a high recommendation. Lange-Muller wrote mostly for the voice, but Axel Gade (Gade’s son, a pupil of Joachim) helped him with this concerto—and gave the premiere. Like the Gade, it is graceful and never harsh or ugly…Neither concerto is on the level of the Nielsen, but we can finally hear them played really well…and it may be another 40 years before we get a recording as good as this one.

The Langgaard is a sort of PS; it was written in 1953–40 years later than the Lange-Muller, which itself was 20 years after the Gade. It lasts only ten minutes, and it mixes high romantic elements with later styles. There’s a piano in it, too.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, September 2009

Mention the name Niels Gade (1817–1890) and most folks immediately think of Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847), whose music he championed as conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. But with eight symphonies to his credit, Niels was in his own right Denmark’s first great romantic composer.

On the whole his three-movement violin concerto of 1880 certainly ranks with some of the best in the romantic literature, and it’s surprising that it’s never entered the standard repertoire. Maybe that’s because some past critics have felt the final two movements didn’t live up to the first. Granted the beautifully crafted opening allegro with its engaging thematic material and brilliant solo work is a hard act to follow. However, you’ll find that with a couple of hearings the delicate heartfelt romanze and perky rondo scherzando that end the concerto are perfectly acceptable, making it a very enjoyable listen.

Although he’s best remembered as a vocal composer with a number of stage works to his credit, Peter Erasmus Lange-Müller (1850–1926) also wrote a number of instrumental pieces. His two symphonies testify to that, but most would probably agree his crowning symphonic achievement is the violin concerto of 1902. In three movements, it’s more of a tripartite rhapsody than a formal concerto for a couple of reasons. First, the emphasis is on thematic invention rather than formal development, and the composer proves right from the start what a gifted melodist he was with a gorgeous opening idea. Second, displays of virtuosity are at a bare minimum. As performed here in its original version, there aren’t even any cadenzas, although there have been times in the past when some soloists inserted their own.

The second movement is notable for a series of pastoral tunes that fall easily on the ear, and recall Delius (1862–1934) in one of his more Scandinavian moods. The final allegro begins with a delightfully childlike theme that may bring to mind the “Galop” from Bizet’s (1838–1875) Jeux d’enfants (1871). This is offset by some more serious passages underscored with pizzicato string work [track-6, beginning at 03:25] that smacks of the last movement from Brahms’ (1833–1897) fourth symphony (1884–5). The Bizet-like tune then returns, and the concerto ends in a state of youthful exuberance.

The disc is filled out with one of the most atypical violin concertos on record. But what else would you expect from that late romantic Danish eccentric Rued Langgaard (1893–1952)! It’s a very late work (1943–44) that’s in a single movement lasting only about ten minutes. What’s more, the violinist shares the spotlight with a pianist who plays a colorful obbligato role. There’s a structural informality and chamber-like clarity about it that many listeners may find remind them of Percy Grainger’s (1882–1961) “rambles.” And that’s not meant in a pejorative sense because like Percy’s music, it’s totally charming and you’ll only wish it were longer!

A master of modern repertoire, violinist Christina Astrand shows she’s equally at home with these romantic concertos. Superb tone and sensitive, articulate playing characterize her performances in all three. Conductor John Storgards and the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra rank among Finland’s best, and couldn’t be more supportive. Pianist Ville Hautala also gets a round of applause for his nimble finger work in the Langgaard.

The sonics are terrific in all playback modes! The stereo CD and SACD tracks produce a convincing soundstage in the inviting venue of the Tampere Concert Hall. The multichannel track places you about a third of the way back in the orchestra, and surrounds you with some of the most lush sound you could ever want, but without any loss of clarity. The violin sound is silky, particularly on the SACD track, and the orchestral timbre, totally natural with an ideal balance maintained between the soloist and tutti. There are a couple of “Bernstein bounces” from Maestro Storgards, but better that and thrilling performances than quiescent vapidity.

Robert Benson, September 2009

Da Capo has a splendid disk called Romantic Violin Concertos offering three violin concertos by three Danish composers, each the only work on that form by their composers. Niels W. Gade’s concerto was composed in 1880 and premiered the following year with Joseph Joachim as soloist. P.E. Lange-Müller, who wrote primarily vocal music, wrote his violin concerto in 1902, Rued Langgaard’s was completed in 1944…Danish violinist Christina Astrand, who is concertmaster of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, plays these works with affection and technical brilliance with splendid support from the Tampere Orchestra directed by John Storgärds. Preben Iwan was producer/engineer in these recordings made in October 2008 in Tampere Concert Hall. Sonic quality is excellent, as usual with Da Capo.

Peter Joelson
Audiophile Audition, August 2009

Three rare Romantic violin concertos from Denmark make refreshing listening in this new SACD release from DaCapo. Niels Gade (1817–1890), a forebear of Langgaard, as his son Axel was married to Langgaard’s aunt, wrote just the one concerto. It had an illustrious start, written as a Christmas present for Joachim who gave the first performance in Berlin in 1881, and was added to several important violinists’ repertoire at the time. However, it went quickly out of fashion, resurfacing only recently, despite the beauty in the writing. The first movement marked con fuoco remains well-behaved, the second is a relaxed Romanze, and the last a scherzando with a light gossamer feel to it. The temperature of the writing remains lower than that of Mendelssohn, and its depth less than Brahms, but on its own terms it makes a rewarding half hour, especially when played with tone as beautiful as Christina Åstrand conjures from her instrument.

Even more ravishing is the concerto by Peter Erasmus Lange-Müller (1850–1926) written in 1902, his first attempt at this form. It was first performed by the Joachim pupil and son of composer of the Gade concerto, Axel Gade in 1904. Like Gade’s, this concerto has been something of a wallflower and has gathered similar dismissive comments from writers over the years. The first movement opens quite majestically, developing into dance-like themes with extended melodies, and is written in sonata-form. The second movement, like some other Scandinavian music of the period, is in debt to Grieg, and none the worse for that. The last movement is an energetic one, allowing the soloist to display technique as well as musicianship.

Rued Langgaard (1893–1952), the composer of sixteen symphonies is various styles, reviewed here, wrote his single violin concerto in 1943 but this had to wait until 1968 for its first performance. Langgaard’s eccentric view of the world and music produced a sheaf of interesting but neglected works; in a single movement and lasting about ten minutes, the concerto mixes the composer’s looking back to lush romanticism with later idioms and incorporates a significant part for piano in the score.

All three concertos are beautifully executed by Christina Åstrand who shows off the upper register of her instrument with a lovely purity of both tone and intonation. She and the conductor John Storgårds convey the structure of these pieces with attention to long line, and the Tampere Philharmonic accompanies with sensitivity—essential if pieces of this calibre are to have chance of success. The recording quality is full-sounding, the ample acoustic of the Tampere concert hall just occasionally clouding detail, a fault in the right direction as all of this music needs room to breathe, and both surround and stereo programmes are a credit to the engineer.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2009

Three seldom heard Danish Romantic violin concertos make for a highly rewarding and excellently played disc that I most strongly commend to you. In truth only Niels Gade really belonged to that era, having completed his concerto in 1880 with Bruch and Brahms as his inspiration. True to the period, he focuses on the soloist, the conventionally fast outer movements surrounding a Romanza where sad beauty is the major ingredient. By training he was a violinist, but fought shy of committing himself to writing a concerto until ten years before his death. He wrote instinctively, finding just the right part of the instrument to capture the varying moods, the Romanza flying on high, or going deep for soulful moments. It would appear to fall well under the left-hand fingers, and Christina Astrand obviously enjoys the piece, the hyperactive and bubbling finale played with a sense of fun, her unnamed violin singing gorgeously. A Russian influence comes with the concerto from Peter Lange-Muller, and, though written twenty-three years later, the style follows on from Gade. The central movement fails to fully capture the attention as it should, and I would like to have heard the finale taken a couple of notches faster, though the central section is nicely handled. Gade’s son gave its first performance and added a cadenza which is here omitted. Rued Langgaard was composing in the same style a further forty-two years later, the violin in the one-movement concerto now given less prominence, the score also includes a part for solo piano. The Tampere orchestra plays very well for John Storgards, the recording a model of clarity.

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