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Symphony No. 4 (The Inextinguishable)
Symphony No. 5

Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra - Michael Schonwandt
recorded in the Danish Radio Concert Hall - 21-22/10/99 (No.4) and 26-27/9/99 (No. 5).
DaCapo 8.224156 [75.56] DDD

This disc deserves a very wide circulation. It has a sweep and a feeling that everything is right about it that minor niggles are silenced. It can be compared to English orchestras playing Elgar and Vaughan Williams, or American ensembles playing Copland, Harris and the like. Is it the performance we have all been waiting for ?, well, not exactly.

There is evidence that an extra patching session or so might have removed one or two tiny imperfections. The playing of the orchestra is not quite in the same high class as the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra's standard on Decca, but the differences are so small as not to make a difference. The recording, not in the top of the drawer Hi-Fi standard of the Decca, sounds here, more like a real orchestra in a concert hall, indeed more like a very good BBC recording, recorded close enough to pick up the detail, but far enough away not to spoil the effect of a real orchestra playing between the speakers. For some, this would be a drawback, but for this reviewer, these are all plusses. Here, both the sound of the orchestra and its ability to evoke the atmosphere of both works is clearly evident, and I had much enjoyment from the disc. So much so that after hearing this recording, I promptly went out and bought the earlier issue, coupling Symphonies 2 and 3!! I enjoyed this just as much.

Symphony No. 4, which opens the disc, starts with a very strong first movement, getting the symphony off to a good start. The Danish woodwinds make a lovely noise, and the quasi rustic flavour of the writing is fully realised here. When it is a shame to often find nowadays that many orchestras are losing their national characteristics as players and music schools become more international, it is very pleasing to note that these characteristics haven't completely disappeared with this orchestra. It is also pleasing to note that this flavour has been admirably caught by the engineers.

There follows the interlude, dominated by those delightful sounding woodwinds. The passionate slow movement follows, culminating in an extended fugue, topped by an intensive climax. This subsides and we are then prepared for the finale, which must have shook early audiences to the core with its intensity and violence. After an introduction, with extremely animated rushing passages for massed strings, there starts the conflict between the orchestra and the timpani. The normal orchestral set of drums are complemented by another set on the opposite side of the orchestra, and these toss conflict back and forth between them. At this stage in the work, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing to attention, such was the intensity of the argument by Schonwant and his players.

Moving on to the 5th Symphony (untitled) we have Nielsen's major exposition of conflict, having as it does the battle between the full orchestra and a completely wayward side drum. The player has instructions from the composer to disrupt the proceedings of the orchestra in its progress towards its goal, whatever the consequences. I have heard some live performances where that nearly happened, but in a studio recording the outcome is quite predictable. Here the conflict is graphically presented, and the truthfulness of the recording supports the effects. The finale then opens joyfully, and progresses to a very satisfying conclusion.

Well done Michael Schonwandt, the Royal Danish Radio Orchestra, and DaCapo completing the issue with an excellent set of notes.

John Phillips

see also review by Terry Barfoot

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