GUSTAV HELSTED: Decet & String Quartet
06 January 2017
American Record Guide
Gustav Helsted (1857-1924), with 35 opus numbers distributed over his 67 years, is not well known either to record collectors (a violin concerto, a cello concerto, and a romance for violin and orchestra have previously appeared), or to music bibliographers (he is not in Grove or in Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart), so that my first notion was that he must be a contemporary composer, not a late romantic.
In fact, the impression that Helsted makes in the opening of his Decet, Op. 18 (from 1891) is of someone walking down the same paths as Mahler, with the string quintet (violins, viola, cello, double bass) laying down a placid D major harmony decorated individually by bird songs from the wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet in A, bassoon, horn). The middle movement is a Slavic-sounding set of seven variations on a 16-bar theme in F-sharp, followed by a Scherzo and Finale that seem to be built over related material and seem to be building towards a boisterous climax that never quite arrives. The String Quartet is more outwardly passionate, as one might guess from its key of F minor; and despite some modern touches and its late date (1917, close to the end of Helsted’s life), still belongs entirely to the 19th Century.
The performances and recording do full justice to a composer that on the evidence of these works deserves a firmer place in the repertoire.