Neeme Järvi / Stockholm Sinfonietta

Niels W. Gade: The Symphonies

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Niels Gade is by far the best-known 19th century Danish symphonist, which tells you pretty much all you need to know about the quality and quantity of 19th century Danish symphonists. Compared with the fantastically imaginative symphonies of Franz Berwald, his Swedish contemporary, Gade's symphonies are four-square and tidy, Romantic, certainly, but more of a Mendelssohn Romantic than a Berlioz Romantic. This 1986 BIS set of Gade's eight symphonies, with Neeme Järvi conducting the Stockholm Sinfonietta, proves that Gade knew what he was doing as a composer; every theme is well thought through and developed with considerable skill, plus his crisp scoring illuminates rather than conceals his forms. While he was clearly a man of strong passions, Gade was unable to translate those feelings into emotionally satisfying music, and one comes away from these works unable to retain a theme or even a feeling. It might be possible to put some of the blame on the conductor. Learning, rehearsing, and recording eight virtually unknown works in less than a year was a task for which Järvi was well suited from a technical point of view, but the time restraints may have limited his ability to engage with Gade's music, and thereby resulted in less than fully characterized interpretations. The Stockholm Sinfonietta certainly seems like a crack ensemble, and Järvi appears to give Gade's symphonies as much intensity as they will bear, so in the end, one comes back to the composer's sheer lack of inspiration as the cause of these performances' lack of excitement. Filling out this set are a 1994 recording of Gade's sprightly Violin Concerto by Anton Kontra and the Malmö Symphony under Paavo Järvi, Neeme's son, and a 1989 recording of the composer's The Crusaders, an over-long and underdone cantata, with Frans Rasmussen leading the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, four choirs, and three soloists, including the wonderfully named bass, Ulrik Cold. BIS' digital sound is consistently clean, clear, and vivid.

Track Listing - Disc 5

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Korsfarerne (The Crusaders), Op. 50
1 5:24
2 2:12
3 5:44
4 3:44
5 3:38
6 4:24
7 6:00
8 9:17
9 3:33
10 3:34
11 3:34
12 8:14
blue highlight denotes track pick