Conrad van Alphen

Grieg: Holberg Suite; Dvorák: Serenade for Strings; Elgar: Serenade for Strings

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The string serenade retained much of its Classical shape and flavor in the nineteenth century, yet it peculiarly developed into a vehicle for sentiment and nostalgia, unlike most other forms cultivated by Romantic composers. The backward glance to an idealized time gives Grieg's Holberg Suite its antiquarian feeling, and if the music vaguely sounds Baroque, it is because Grieg sought out eighteenth century models to evoke the period of Ludvig Holberg, whom this piece celebrates. Even so, there is no mistaking the work's Romanticism, since its lush harmonies and textures give the game away. Dvorák's Serenade is not pointedly archaic, though it, too, falls back on the previous century's forms to suggest gentility and composure, with only occasional hints of Dvorák's customary boisterousness. Elgar's Serenade does not derive its pensive sweetness from the past, but rather from a more generalized yearning that filters through much fin de siècle music, particularly the salon pieces of the era. Although Elgar's music here is more ambitious than in his previous miniatures, it shares with them the same wistfulness and sense of introspection. The Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra, led by Conrad van Alphen, gives these works polished performances, and Telarc's recorded sound is pleasant, if a little unfocused and flat.

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