Symphonic Suite, Op.8
A Dream about ‘Silent Night’
Festival Prelude for the New Century
Piano Music for Young and Old – Books I & II, Op.53
Piano Piece (in C major)
Five Piano Pieces, Op.3
Theme and Variations, Op.40
Three Piano Pieces, Op.59
Martin Roscoe (piano)
Recorded 26-28 February and 17 & 18 June 2007 in Potton Hall, Suffolk, England
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: June 2008
CD No: HYPERION
CDA67591/2 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 57 minutes
Suite (Opus 45) from 1919 seems quite modern. In effect this is a six-movement sonata. It was written for the distinguished Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel and the bold forthrightness of this music must have suited that great Beethoven interpreter. Originally Nielsen intended to call it ‘Den Luciferiske’ but withdrew the name because although his reference was intended to refer to Lucifer the bringer of light, he felt that some might put a devilish interpretation on the title. Surprisingly there is an almost French delicacy in the Impressionistic second movement and with Roscoe the anger of the brittle Adagio is superbly addressed; the quiet ending of this disturbing movement is typical of Nielsen in calming mood and prepares the listener for the Scandinavian straightforwardness of the following Allegro innocente, the succeeding Allegretto vivo has an East European dance-lilt to it and Germanic power informs in the finale. Roscoe is as much at home with the dramatic elements of this work as he is with the refinement required for the smaller pieces. This is not an easy work for the newcomer but no less an authority than the composer Robert Simpson was led to declare: “this Suite is Nielsen’s greatest piano work”.
No-one ever suggested that Nielsen’s music was easy to perform. Even the early Symphonic Suite, which begins this release, drew from the pianist Christian Christiansen the barbed comment: “so Nielsen was aware that it was not pleasant either for the fingers or the ears”. Sensibly the programme begins with this early work and ends with the Three Piano pieces (Opus 59). These were composed in 1928 but not published until six years after the composer’s death (Nielsen died in 1931) – some commentators have suggested that this is because they were so contemporary in style – in his notes Daniel Grimley describes them as “high modernist”. They are certainly of their period but I doubt if Nielsen – who famously lampooned modern music in his Sixth Symphony – would have accepted such a term. Roscoe plays these pieces with exactly the force and clarity required.
There is however a less demanding side to Nielsen within his more substantial music and Roscoe’s witty treatment of the Theme and Variations makes it very approachable. Despite the apparent seriousness of this set of variants on a somewhat academic theme, there is always a friendly smile lurking within. In particular the sudden quiet ending to the long final Variation that begins so dissonantly is a delightful whim.
The recording is warm, very clear, and the piano is tonally even from top to bottom. I find the decision to leave longer than usual pauses between pieces most refreshing.