GUSTAV HELSTED Decet & Strygekvartet
01 July 2016
David's Review Corner
Born in 1857, the Danish-born Gustav Helsted was an outcast as a composer in his lifetime and now almost forgotten, though this disc shows it to be most unjustified. He gained a high reputation as an organist in Copenhagen, eventually holding that position at the city’s Cathedral, and it was with that financial backdrop that he composed a modest output as various as an opera, symphonic scores and chamber music. So far as commentators at the time were concerned, he was too interested in Germanic music to enter into the vogue of Danish Romanticism, the Decet, for five wind instruments and string quintet, being a child of Wagner and strongly related to Richard Strauss. Had it carried either of their names it would have been part of our standard repertoire. The scoring is highly imaginative; the mood of the four movements - it lasts for a little over half an hour - nicely varied; the bird calls of the opening setting the scene of a Wagnerian forest. Folk music provided the basic ingredients of the second and third movements, with a finale of wide tempo changes that oscillate between dignified restraint and vivacious happiness. If Helsted’s use of tonal colours at his disposal is impressive, the String Quartet from 1917 is something out of the ordinary, each of the four movements grasps attention by its abundance of melodic invention. His use of the four instruments produces a most interesting series of dialogues, the scherzo bubbling with energy, while the powerful finale is as good as anything you will find in the late Romantic era. I will take the performances from the Danish Sinfonietta at face value, and with superb sound quality, this will probably be my ‘discovery of the year’.