on 10 October 2003
Niels Gade was highly respected by such notable contemporaries as Schumann and Mendelssohn. On Mendelssohn's invitation, he brought his first symphony to Leipzig to ravishing reviews and success. Hearing this recording of the work with Christopher Hogwood and the DNRSO, one can only wonder why Gade has been neglected for so many years. As so much of Gade's music, it is inspired by Schumann and Mendelssohn. The first movement is full of superbly conceived drama, inspired by a Danish tale, a motif that runs through the entire symphony, coming to a conclusion in the last movement of almost Mendelssohnian elegance. Yet, the work cannot be mistaken for Mendelssohn, Schumann or any other contemporary composer; Gade has a Nordic quality that is all his own.
In addition to the first symphony, buyers also get Gade's fifth symphony, which is a work unlike any other I know, as it has piano obligato. That is, the piano forms an integral part of the orchestra. The work, which was a wedding gift to Gade's wife, is reminiscent of Mendelssohn in its elegant flow of charming ideas and details. Although it may seem lightweight compared to the grand first symphony, this work conveys the joy that any wedding should celebrate.
Throughout, Hogwood pays attention to both detail and the grand lines of the works. What is more, the playing of the Danish orchestra is toprate with real warmth in the strings, solid brass and a woodwind ensemble of extraordinary quality. This is a real find, if one is looking for music of a forgotten equal of the leading composers of the mid-1800s.