J. GADE: Waltzes, Tangos, and Cinema Music – Christian Westergaard, piano – DaCapo 8.226057, 78:37 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
The musical reputation of Jacob Gade (1879-1963) has depended on his famed Tango Jalousie, once the most played composition in the 20th Century. The Danish composer wanted to be known as another “waltz king” in the manner of Johann Strauss, publishing his first waltz Irenen-Zauber in 1900. Unlike some other Danish waltz inventors, Gade’s dances take their cue from French models, preferably Gounod, Delibes, and Godard. Under the pseudonym Maurice Ribot, Gade published the opening Valse ravissante (1917) and its companion Valse reveuse (1916), salon pieces with an easy gait and an occasional melodic lilt of some sentimental character close to the spirit of Victor Herbert. The “ragtime” waltz Un Soir a Maxim, valse brillante (1918) might nod to Ravel, at least insofar as it likes edgy hurdles and modal developments that smack of a Schubert influence.
Pianist Westergaard interrupts the cycle of waltzes with Cinema Music (1926, Series I), a set of six pieces that reflect Gade’s association with the Palads Theatre (beginning 1921), requiring Gade to watch a film twice so he could adapt a grand theme and variations to suit the mercurial moods of romance, idyll, or eeriness, or whatever the film’s plot demanded. The first two pieces do not distinguish themselves, except as “Mysterioso” generally takes its material from Liszt’s Funerailles. Burlesque has a dainty and light jauntiness not far from a Chaplin moment. Agitato in syncopated double notes rings with a light virtuosity we associate with popular Schumann. Intermezzo bows to the Gossec Gavotte, here cross fertilized by a bit of jazz idiom. The Moderato poco agitato that concludes the set hints at Grieg as an influence, though the bass harmonies seem traditional, like Mendelssohn. Of the six pieces of Cinema Music (1926, Series II), the Folkescene enjoys a yodeling motif intertwined with lithe elements of Grieg. A touch of Schumann’s Forest Scenes informs “Mysterioso,” but its “stealthy” means sound contrived. “Chanson triste” emulates the salon music of Tchaikovsky, lyrical, sweet, symmetrical in a pedestrian formula. After a Chaplinesque “Entr’acte” we catch a whirlwind piano arrangement of the Storm-Scene from Rossini’s William Tell Overture, a sound appropriate for an endangered Lillian Gish.
Melodie (1923) sounds derived from Anton Rubinstein’s Melodie in F, the old Hofmann and Cherkassky staple. Its modulation reminds me of the sweet tune in the Warsaw Concerto. Monna Vanna: Tango Blues (1924) made have been danced by Henry and June Miller in a scene from their Paris haunts. Tango charmeuse casts an Argentine glance at Paris, sultry and a tad bluesy. The relatively lengthy Lavender Scent: Reverie (1923) plays like an etude close in spirit to Liszt’s La Campanella’s flurry of repeated notes. The glittery roulades might suggest Louis Moreau Gottschalk. “Ils sont Passes,” “Phryne: Valse lente,” and “Valse intime” each was published under the pseudonym Maurice Ribot between 1918 and 1921. Rather formulaic, they exert some bravura filigree in their respective middle sections. The “They have passed” waltz (1918) becomes heavy-handed, but its fin-de-siecle sonority recalls barbershop quartets of the period. The sway of Bizet’s Carmen moves Phryne: Valse lente (1918), but the bass-harmony formula has grown tired, as though we had heard “And the Band Played On” section of “The Strawberry Blond” once too many times. The “Valse intime” (1921) lilts much like Victor Herbert or Leo Delibes, happy, charming, and somewhat innocuous. Generally tame fare, but pleasant in small doses.
— Gary Lemco