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Christopher L Chaffee
American Record Guide, July 2009

What a treat. I did not know these sonatas, and I had to study them in great depth and detail twice. Niels Gade was the foremost Danish musician and composer of the 19th Century, and teacher of both Grieg and Nielsen. He was friends with Schumann and Mendelssohn. The latter promoted Gade’s music in Leipzig when authorities in Copenhagen dismissed it as “too Germanic”. A formidable violinist, his sonatas for that instrument are brilliant works that clearly show the influence of German romanticism. Each one is substantial—all are at least 20 minutes long. They span Gade’s career—Opus 6 in A is a sunny, youthful work; Opus 21 in D minor is a brooding beast that I think should replace the rather tired-out and overplayed Franck Sonata on modern programs; and Opus 59 is a late, pensive but cheerful piece.

James Manheim, June 2009

Danish Romantic composer Niels Gade is best known for his orchestral music; the three sonatas for violin and piano recorded here are rarely heard, at least outside of Denmark. But the first of them, at least, attracted performances by both Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann in its own time (the latter with Gade himself on the violin). They cover a span of time from 1842 to 1885. One interesting feature of the set is that the expected stylistic progression is reversed; the freest piece is the Violin Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 6, with its wealth of melody, while the second is closer to the vein of Schumann’s chamber music, with clear sonata forms and motivic links among movements. The third sonata is one of those sunny works of old age that seems to look back on the music of a lifetime; it’s a lovely, airy piece. There’s a distinctive mood running through all three works, light but without a hint of the salon. It would be hard to imagine more sympathetic performances than those by Danish musicians Christina Astrand (violin) and Per Salo (piano), and any lover of Romantic-era chamber music will find a valuable collection addition here. The booklet notes, useful but a bit heavy on minutiae of chronology, are in English, German, and Danish., May 2009

The intimacy of chamber music—much of which was originally written to be played at home, as a communal event—can sometimes make it more enjoyable to play than to hear. But when there is sufficient joy in the playing, chamber works come through with an emotional immediacy that larger-scale ones do not quite match…Niels Gade’s three violin-and-piano sonatas span a large portion of his career. No. 1 (A major) dates to 1842, when Gade was 25; No. 2 (D minor) is from 1849–50; and No. 3 (B-flat major) is from 1885, five years before the composer’s death. It is scarcely surprising that the works cover very different emotional territory. No. 1 is quite Mendelssohnian (Mendelssohn was a major influence on Gade: Gade was his assistant conductor at the Leipzig Gewandhaus and, after Mendelssohn’s death, his successor) and has a well-designed finale that, surprisingly, is in A minor. No. 2 is more compressed (it is the shortest of the three sonatas) and includes an interestingly designed middle movement that is in part a slow movement and in part a scherzo. No. 3 is musically a bit of a throwback, with youthful joyousness in its themes and without the broad emotionalism of Romantic-era works of its time. Perhaps not surprisingly, it has never been particularly popular, although it is very well constructed. Christina Åstrand and Per Salo play all these works with strength, understanding and a fine sense of balance between the violin and piano parts.

David Vernier, April 2009

The obvious thing would be to say that if you love Schumann and Brahms, you’ll enjoy these sonatas by Danish composer Niels Gade. You’ll also be entertained if you like your ear tweaked by occasional riffs suggestive of Beethoven or even Richard Strauss (yes, I know, Strauss essentially came after Gade, but listen to the opening theme of the Sonata No. 3, or to the melody in the Sonata No. 2 finale, and see what you think!). Although written over a period of more than 40 years and showing some (small) stylistic differences, these sonatas are all similarly vigorous, exuberant works that invite the utmost expressive energy (and not a little technical savvy!) from the two performers. In the long-distant days when I studied the violin my teachers never would have suggested such pieces for devoted study—why waste your time on anything but the real Brahms or Beethoven? But my reply would now be: why not give serious attention to Gade’s sonatas, all of which are very well-written for the violin (Gade was a violinist) and sound like they would be at least as much fun to play as Brahms or Beethoven?

These works have been rarely recorded, undeservedly so, and the performances here—by Christina Åstrand, who has made excellent recordings of concertos by Emil Hartmann (for this same label—DACAPO 6.220511), Ligeti, and Nørgård, and her pianist partner Per Salo (who also appears on Dacapo in Hartmann’s Piano Concerto)—match the vigor and exuberance inherent in Gade’s scores. The sound, especially for the violin, is somewhat close, and so is less vibrant and resonant as it might be. There is nothing new or unusual here—just some readily accessible, enlivening Classical/Romantic-style music that’s artfully, skillfully, sympathetically played. Again, if you enjoy Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann…

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

The leading figure in Danish music in the 19th century, Niels Gade began his working life as a violinist, a fondness for the instrument shown in the three violin sonatas. Today his reputation largely endures through recordings of his symphonies, making this new release a valuable addition to the catalogue.The earliest sonata came from the young composer at the age of twenty-five, influences of his Scandinavian background still fresh, youthful, and musically uncluttered. From the rippling piano opening, the first movement is joyful and lightly animated; the second slow and tender, and a greater feeling of inner strength for the final allegro. Seven years later his style had been penetrated by Germanic influences. There remained the rippling accompaniment of which he was fond, but now the music has greater import. The central movement acts as both the slow movement and scherzo, with a slow and weighty opening to a finale that ends with a hint of César Franck. The Third came just five years before his death and is a fine score by any standard, though I cannot see why it is placed first on the disc, as makes the following tracks something of a disappointment. He had now moved to a four-movement format, with a charming Romanze placed third. It’s opening has a big, sweeping and memorable theme, and the finale, a fast allegro vivace, requiring the deft left-hand fingers of Christina Astrand. She is one of Denmark’s best-known soloists and the Concertmaster of the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra. She began working with the pianist, Per Salo, thirteen years ago, and that familiarity creating a perfect rapport, the balance being impeccable throughout.

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