Like many in EMI’s
‘Gemini’ series, this is a straight repackaging of a set which
has also seen the light of day as part of their double fforte
issues. What a Nielsen feast though! Herbert Blomstedt has long
been a respected Nielsen interpreter, and as a set of all of
this composer’s concerti, plus a mighty handful of his miscellaneous
orchestral works, you can’t go far wrong.
analogue recordings still sound very good, with a light haze
of tape hiss only really being noticeable in quieter moments,
like the atmospheric opening to the Helios Overture.
The warmth of the string melody combined with the understated
horns at around 1:45 always makes me tingle, as does the horn’s
entry at 3:40. The analogue recording does cast a slightly foggy
cloud over the strings here where the peak levels are reached,
but as with most of these performances these are observations
rather than criticisms – those of you passionate about distortion-free
digital know what to look for. The Danish orchestra have the
programmatic sense of works like Saga-drøm in their blood,
and I love the lush vibrato in some of those brass chorales.
The core of this
set lies in the concertos of course, and these are all very
good performances. The grand scale and broad canvas of the Violin
Concerto is approached with symphonic strength by Blomstedt,
and Arve Tellefsen is a persuasive and sensitive soloist. The
only curiosity is the tempo of the final Rondo, which,
marked Allegretto scherzando, does seem rather slow.
Blomstedt maintains a light touch however, and all of the subtle
little brushstrokes of orchestral colour are nicely pointed.
CD 2 begins with
an emphatic reading Pan and Syrinx, which Nielsen completed
not long after the Fourth Symphony, and the Rhapsody Concerto:
An Imaginary Journey to the Faeroe Islands has all of the
seafaring glory you could wish for – that theme at 5:05 always
makes me want to stand up and salute. The Flute Concerto
is one of the best written for the instrument in the 20th
Century, and Frantz Lemmser is a capable soloist with an eloquently
strong tone through all registers. I particularly like his restraint
at crucial moments, such as in the beautiful melody at 4:55
in the first movement. After completing the Fifth Symphony Nielsen
had planned to compose concertos for each of the members of
the Copenhagen Wind Quintet, but only lived long enough to complete
the two we have here. The Clarinet Concerto on this set
has been criticised in the past, and Kjell-Inge Stevensson is
not the strongest soloist you will come across, although I find
his tone and musicality quite acceptable – the occasional dodgy
moment between notes being the only real caveat. The music is
fascinating however, often inhabiting that surrealist world
you can also find in the Sixth Symphony.
This all-in-one concerto
package plus extras is as ever quite a bargain, and a fair introduction
to Nielsen’s music if you are unfamiliar with his work – although
the symphonies are more stunning in general. If it’s the concertos
alone you really want then there is a very good single disc on
Chandos with Michael Schønwandt which is top of the heap when
it comes to complete sets. The recordings and performances on
this ‘twofer’ won’t knock many of the more recent versions off
the shelves, but you will never go far wrong with this programme;
in the safe hands of Blomstedt and the Danish RSO.