Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Character, charm and musical vision


Jens Cornelius, in his entertaining liner notes to this excellent new DaCapo disc of Danish Romantic Piano Trios, introduces Peter Erasmus Lange-Muller as “a sensitive soul from a fine old Copenhagen family.” That’s a tough place to start from in the rough and tumble world of classical music, where self-esteem is gold, and natural vigour can help make up for a lack of formal training or social graces (think of Beethoven or Villa-Lobos). Lange-Muller’s melodic gifts are on display in his Piano Trio of 1898, but he’s trying pretty hard to make his work something more than another salon piece. I quite like the results: amped-up romanticism in the outer movements, with a neurotic feel, verging on hysteria at times, in the finale. Lange-Muller mainly takes a break from fin-de-siecle angst in the lovely middle movement, letting the strings and piano share some beautiful, sad melodies. This piece has lots of character, and that’s due in part to the excellence of the newly formed group The Danish Piano Trio.

There’s character as well in the 1863 Piano Trio in F major by Niels Gade, but the composer is here more or less content to follow the models of his friends and mentors Mendelssohn and Schumann. This is well-composed, academically sound music that is redeemed by Gade’s natural charm and warmth. There’s even more charm in the piano trio movement the 22-year-old Gade wrote in 1939. The fact that he spins his slight material out for 12 minutes shows the prodigious talent of the young musician.

The final work on this very well-planned programme takes us to the brink of a completely new sound world. Rued Langgaard, probably second only to Carl Nielsen among Danish composers, wrote the Mountain Flowers movement for piano trio in 1908. It became a movement in Langgaard’s First Symphony, setting him on his way to greatness in composition but eventual obscurity that lasted until well after his death. With only hints of the long musical journey ahead, there’s a bracing backbone to his musical vision that belies the peaceful pre-war times in which it was written. The composer has the 20th century within him even then (at 15!); it was only a matter of time before his musical vision was fully expressed.

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