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Carl NIELSEN (1865 -1931)
Symphony No.5, op.50 (1920/1922) [38:42]
Violin Concerto, op.33 (1911) [37:20]
Flute Concerto (1926) [19:04]
Clarinet Concerto, op.57 (1928) [25:36]
Wind Quintet, op.43 (1922) [23:58]
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik (op.50); Arve Tellefsen (violin), Frantz Lemmser (flute), Kjell-Inge Stevensson (clarinet); Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt (concertos). Melos Ensemble (op.43)
rec. 17 June 1983, Concert Hall, Danmarks Radio, Copenhagen (op. 50); 24–26 March 1975; 14–17 April 1975 (concertos); 4–5 December 1967, EMI Studio 1, Abbey Road, London (op.43). ADD/DDD
re-issues of EMI 2703521 (Symphony), SLS 5207 (Concertos) and ASD 2438 (Quintet)
EMI 20th CENTURY CLASSICS 2068822 [76:17 + 68:59]
Experience Classicsonline

A couple of days after Kubelik gave this performance of Carl Nielsen’s 5th Symphony, I received a cassette tape from a friend of mine, who worked at Denmark Radio, containing a recording of this performance – it wasn’t released on LP until 1986 – and a note instructing me to play it immediately. I was late to work that morning. Also, at that time, I had a friend staying with me, who had come to London for a couple of meetings that day. He had always professed an hatred for the music of Carl Nielsen and listened to the tape tight-lipped and silent. When I returned home that evening I discovered that my friend, far from being bored with the Symphony, had cancelled his meetings, stayed indoors and had played the tape several times, amazed at the power and originality of the music. Another convert to the cause of Carl Nielsen. He took a copy of the performance home with him.
This is a performance of titanic strength. Utilising tempi rather more deliberate than most, Kubelik displays the Symphony exactly as Nielsen described – two ways of working out the same problem, the first movement, with its notorious side-drum, being the emotional answer and the second movement with its two fugues, fast and slow, based on the same music, the intellectual solution. One might think that it would be impossible to teach the Danish Radio Orchestra anything new about this work, but Kubelik stamps his own ideas on the work and the Orchestra responds to every nuance. The playing is magnificent, the drummer giving his all and trying, as Nielsen directs, as if his life depended on stopping the progress of the orchestra. He’s a little backwardly recorded but that allows us to hear what the orchestra is doing – sometimes, there’s too much prominence given to the side-drum and the orchestra is almost obliterated.
Over the years, there have been many fine recordings of Nielsen’s 5th Symphony – Berglund, Bernstein, Andrew Davis, Horenstein, Kletzki, Bryden Thomson and Erik Tuxen – and I wouldn’t want to be without any one of them. Kubelik’s is one of the very best recorded performances I have ever heard; it’s an extremely valuable addition to the continually growing recorded legacy of Carl Nielsen’s music and should be on every record shelf. It’s also a magnificent tribute to a great conductor.
Herbert Blomstedt was the first conductor to record all the Nielsen Symphonies, Concertos, and miscellaneous orchestral pieces and have them presented in one boxed set. When it was released it was in direct competition with the Ole Schmidt set of the Symphonies (on Unicorn) and it must be said that neither set was entirely satisfactory. The best set of Nielsen Symphonies is still the Danacord historical set with mainly live performances from the 1950s, all conducted by the composer’s friends (DACOCD 351/353). In the Blomstedt set the Concertos fared rather better than the Symphonies.
The Violin Concerto has, in some hands, seemed a somewhat lightweight work, but this simply is not so. True, there’s lots of good tunes, felicitous orchestration, a dazzling cadenza in the first movement, and a sense of fun in the finale and all this can make one forget what a tightly constructed work it actually is. Tellefsen is a lyrical player and he is a perfect soloist for this work, making the music sing and dance, without using it as an overt showpiece. It’s a fine interpretation and Blomstedt directs a straightforward, if somewhat stolid, accompaniment.
After writing the Wind Quintet, for the Copenhagen Wind Quintet, Nielsen decided to compose a concerto for each of the players, reflecting the personalities of the performers, but only achieved the two recorded here before his untimely death. The Flute Concerto is one of his happiest inspirations, written for Holger-Gilbert Jespersen, who recorded it with the Danish Radio Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Jensen, in the 1950s (DECCA LXT 2979), who had a love of French music, this work, despite having no French connections whatsoever, is full of gallic charm and wit – especially the pitting of the aristocratic flute against the coarse bass trombone. Lemmser plays the work well, and manages to express monstrous outrage each time the trombone interrupts his musings.
The Clarinet Concerto is a much more difficult work. Written for Aage Oxenvad, and, again, intended to express his temperament, this is a work of revolt, with a prominent part for side drum. In one movement, the music moves through moments of drama, pathos, storm and stress, it’s not an easy listen and only very slowly lets you into its own unique world. Stevensson isn’t always quite at home with the music but he makes a good job of a very difficult part, he’s especially good in the tortured music, where he seems to be screaming for his life. Blomstedt is at his best here, encouraging the orchestra to join in the struggle and really fight for what they believe in.
Finally, the Wind Quintet, the “delectable wind quintet” as Robert Simpson has it. Delectable it is too. Written after the Herculean labours of the 5th Symphony, here is music of relaxation, entertainment and enjoyment. The first movement is an easily flowing conversation between the players, the second a gentle waltz, the third, where the oboist changes to cor anglais, is a serious introduction to the final movement – a very pleasing set of variations on a tune Nielsen took from his own Hymns and Sacred Songs written a few years earlier. Here is the first hint of the concertos to come as some of the variations express the personality and temperament of the player. It’s a wonderful conclusion to an interesting set. My only reservation is that the oboe sounds acidic and strained; I don’t remember that on the original LP.
This is a very enjoyable set, well worth having, especially for Kubelik’s masterful interpretation of the 5th Symphony. The sound is good, apart from the oboe mentioned above, and very clear and clean. David Fanning’s notes are succinct but instructive. One interesting point – the drummer in the Clarinet Concerto is named, but not the protagonist in the Symphony, very odd, especially considering the important role he has to play. I wonder why? One thing bothers me. Why doesn’t Rafael Kubelik’s name appear on the front of the booklet? Simply glancing at the disk one would believe this to be another re-issue of the Blomstedt’s Danish recording of Nielsen 5.
There’s much to enjoy here, so please do enjoy it!
Bob Briggs


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