Niels W. Gade is the most famous composer Denmark produced in the 19th century. A household name in his homeland, he's relatively unknown elsewhere.
He produced a large body of works in all genres, including symphonies, operas, ballets, oratorios and chamber music. These show him to be a remarkably gifted composer whose talent was recognized by his older contemporaries, Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann.
Violinist Hasse Borup, himself a Dane, hopes to make Gade a little more familiar to a broader audience. Borup, who teaches at the University of Utah, has teamed with pianist and colleague Heather Conner in a program featuring Gade's three violin and piano sonatas.
The duo has taken this program on the road for several concerts in the Intermountain West, and Sunday they played it for an appreciative audience in Libby Gardner Concert Hall as part of the U.'s Sundays@7 series. (They will record this program soon for Naxos, with a tentative release date set for this fall.)
Borup and Conner have appeared together numerous times since Borup joined the U. a couple of years ago. Theirs is an attractive and dynamic partnership. They approach the music with the same intense determination and with an obvious enthusiasm that they impart on their playing. It's pure pleasure watching them perform together, and one can immediately tell they enjoy what they're doing.
The program of three Gade violin sonatas seems to be tailor-made for them. Their playing was infused with vitality and dynamic drive but tempered with finely honed romantic sensibility and lyricism.
These works span Gade's entire creative life. They offer wonderful insight into how he developed as a composer, from the youthful first sonata written when he was 25 and clearly influenced by Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Schubert to the more mature second and finally the third, with its expansive scheme and Nordic earnestness.
Gade dedicated his first sonata to Clara Schumann, and it has the largest piano part of the three, which contrasts with the violin's simpler and more straightforward passages. There is a delightful lightness to the work, however, that both Borup and Conner captured with their expressive (and in Conner's case dexterous) playing. Conner handled her part with ease and didn't in any way overpower her partner's playing. The two were well balanced.
The second, written only seven years after the first, is a much more serious work. Conceived on a grander scale than the first, its scope is larger, its palette of expressions is more extensive and its emotional range is broader. Robert Schumann and perhaps Beethoven as well are discernible in the music. The work is dark and serious and with a dynamic urgency to it. Borup and Conner brought out the weightiness of the sonata wonderfully with their romantically tinged playing that underscored the work's restless drive.The last violin sonata, written five years before Gade's death in 1890, is the most expansive of the three. It is a richly romantic work, by a composer who is unconcerned with what is developing around him musically at this time. Gade finds pleasure in writing in a style that, while distinctly his own by now, is nevertheless indebted to an earlier romanticism. And the duo made the most of this, playing in a manner that captured this lush romanticism with infinite poetic expressiveness and lyrical eloquence.