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Andrew Mellor
Gramophone, October 2015

GRAMOPHONE SPECIALIST’S GUIDE TO… Nielsen beyond the symphonies

We started with a piece whose opening is ‘brusque’, and here’s one that bursts into life in its initial gesture with that sudden disruptive impulse that opens other works including Saul and David and the first four symphonies. Nielsen’s First Violin Sonata of 1895 speaks of a composer discovering this new, curious, incendiary, angular, anti-lyrical and utterly energetic musical language. The insistence and Janáček-like discourtesy of the sonata’s first movement had Copenhagen critics urging Nielsen to calm down (thankfully, he ignored them). © 2015 Gramophone

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2007

Carl Nielsen's two violin sonatas are little known, and even more rare are the Prelude, Theme and Variations and the Prelude e Presto for solo violin, the coupling making this a desirable addition to the catalogue. The fact that Nielsen never played any of them in concert probably pointed to his lack of technique on the instrument he had studied. Yet he could write so convincingly in music that challenges the soloist, the First Sonata causing quite a storm at its first performance in 1895 before an audience who had yet to come to terms with the jagged, often violent and harmonically abrasive music from the young composer. Time has healed, and, though high on octane in the opening movement, this is a dramatic and perfectly balanced score, the three movements being of a generally equal length, the piano often more important than the violin. Unusual is the level of intensity through the three movements, the central Andante hardly relaxing. In many ways the Second Sonata from seventeen years later was more conventional, the thematic material easier to follow, though it too fell foul of the critics. Why they found such difficulty in liking a work that finishes in such a happy mood, and with so much that is amiable in the central movement, is strange, particularly as Nielsen's symphonic output was by then well known. The two unaccompanied scores were both written for the distinguished Hungarian violinist, Emil Telmanyi, who had married Nielsen's daughter. They are extremely difficult, yet so pleasing for the listener, the strong melodic base for the Prelude, Theme and Variations resulting in eight short variations that push the violinist to the brink of virtuosity, and must be as amazing to see as they are to listen to. The Prelude e Presto is equally fiendish, and Telmanyi must have shocked his listeners with such an intemperate show of brilliance. The sonatas are given trenchant performances by Jon Gjesme and the pianist, Jens Elvekjaer, the playing of the very highest quality. But of course it is the young Tue Lautrop in the unaccompanied works that catches the attention as he does his musical circus act, and it would be churlish to point to some edgy intonation when most violinists would not know where to start. The sound quality on this Dacapo release is just about as realistic as we can at present imagine.

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