Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trio in G.
Serenata in vano.
Fantasy Piece for Clarinet and Piano in g.
DiamantEnsemblet; Jens Elvekjær (pn);
Nina Kathrin Schlemme (hp)
da capo 8.226064 (65:04)
The music of Carl Nielsen (1865–1931) is one of the great revival stories of the late 20th century. While not quite the household word that Grieg or Sibelius is, he composed music heard fairly often in concert. Apart from one or two pieces, however, he is mostly known for his symphonic work. Yet, there is a considerable amount of chamber music and a great many songs that ought to be heard outside Scandinavia. Here is the beginning of a project to bring more of that music to wider attention.
Curiously, the fine notes by Knud Ketting vouchsafe us nary a word about the first piece, the Piano Trio in G from 1883, written when Nielsen was 18 years old and before he began studies at the conservatory in Copenhagen. This brief piece owes something to the quirkiness of Haydn, whose string quartets he played with local friends in Odense: a forthright attention-getting chord is quickly supplanted by a simple, almost banal, melody that, despite attempts by the chord to assert its prominence, is given a series of charming variations. The remaining two movements are more conventional, but full of good spirits. The piano part is quite flashy, which is odd considering that Nielsen was not a particularly good pianist; having started out on the cornet and the trombone, he became a violinist, which is what he went to Copenhagen to study. The relatively young Trio Ondine plays the piece with panache and a good sense of its innate humor.
The main work on this recording, the late Wind Quintet (1922), came at the same time as Nielsen’s buoyant celebration of spring,
(“Springtime on Funen”), and his rather restrained Fifth Symphony, a time when he was also busy helping with a new school songbook. Though the immediate inspiration for it was a rehearsal of Mozart’s
(K Anh 9 (297b), currently out of favor as authentically by Mozart), it was an instrumental combination just then becoming popular, along with works by Hindemith, Schoenberg, and Hans Eisler. Though Nielsen’s music is always tonal, he often plays with tonality, pushing it, even disguising it, and nowhere is this clearer than in the quintet. The piece explodes with wit, and the ensemble here plays it with exuberance. About this time, Nielsen wrote to the Swedish composer, Vilhelm Stenhammar, that he did not agree with the idea of art for art’s sake unless it meant that each art should be permitted to go to the limits of itself. This ideal he found most clearly expressed in the music of Mozart, who, here and elsewhere serves as a sort of
There is no hint of the coming war in the
Serenata in vano
(1914). Indeed, parts of it could almost have come from the cabaret stage. Nielsen himself described it as “a joke.” The
Fantasy Piece for Clarinet and Piano
(c. 1881) is the earliest piece on this disc and is, as one might expect from a 16-year old, in an older style, but interesting to compare with the slightly later two
for oboe, from 1889. The latter date from after Nielsen’s conservatory years and show a much more complex structure. The
(1913) was written as the competition piece for the vacancy of fourth horn in the orchestra Nielsen conducted, and emphasizes the low notes needed by that player. The three pieces from Helge Rode’s patriotic play
(1920, “The Mother”) are simply mood-pieces for harp, flute, and viola, the first of which, “The fog is lifting,” became popular in an orchestral arrangement.
DiamantEnsemblet plays the serenade and the quintet wonderfully. This may be the best recording of it yet. The Trio Ondine have great fun in the trio, and the whole recording makes me look forward to the rest of the series. It is high time to explore the breadth of Nielsen’s chamber music, and this is a good place to start.
FANFARE: Alan Swanson
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