> Nielsen symphony 4 Mehta [TH]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphony No. 4, FS76 (Op. 29) ‘The Inextinguishable
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

Poem of Ecstasy, Op.54
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
Recorded 1967 (Scriabin), 1974 (Nielsen) ADD
ELOQUENCE DECCA 466 904-2 [53.31] Super-budget

Am I alone in thinking that most of Mehta’s best recordings come from the sixties and early seventies, and mainly with this orchestra? These are marvellous performances, full of life and colour, and sounding light years away from the rather bland, faceless offerings we have had from this conductor in recent years. Indeed, though I possess two Nielsen cycles on disc (from Blomstedt on Decca, and Chung on Bis), this ‘Inextinguishable’ is as good as any you’re likely to encounter.

Take the very opening, where Nielsen’s fiery originality bursts forth. Mehta unleashes his orchestral forces upon us with real venom and power, and when the music finally subsides, the beauty of the Los Angeles woodwind playing (and its important contribution to Nielsen’s subsequent thematic scheme) becomes apparent. I haven’t heard the crucial clarinet thirds better phrased (around 1.28), and when the development takes off (around 3.45), the semi-canonic entries through the orchestra are beautifully balanced.

The symphony plays without a break, and as the stormy first movement yields to the gentle pastoral interlude that is the second movement, the Los Angeles wind again excel themselves. As this fades and is interrupted by the passionate slow movement, the long, single arch of melody is sumptuously played by the orchestra’s strings. I particularly like Mehta’s handling of the mysterious episode at around 4.38, where weird birdsong cries on the oboes and clarinets again ominously interrupt proceedings.

The marvellous finale, with its characteristic timpani battle, is enjoyed by all, and Mehta gauges the ‘homecoming’ of the coda to perfection, broadening the tempo just enough to give the final peroration a suitable feeling of triumph over adversity. The recording, dating from 1974, is full-bodied and detailed.

The unusual coupling is just as effective. Scriabin’s luxuriously exotic Poem of Ecstasy may seem an odd bedfellow for the Nielsen, but both works are chronological contemporaries, and both, in one critic’s words, ‘seek to express the unquenchable vitality of life and music’. This wonderfully over-the-top, post-Wagnerian symphonic poem, with its restless yearning and almost atonal chromaticism, was a party piece for Mehta and this orchestra, and they revel in every moment of it. Even Mikhail Pletnev’s recent DG account, with his excellent Russian National Orchestra, is no match for the fervent eroticism of Mehta, and the recording, though 1967 vintage, is actually better focused than the Pletnev, which has a slightly muddy bass and some odd microphone highlighting.

So this re-issue, even with ungenerous playing time, deserves serious consideration by anyone interested in these two composers. The notes, by David Hurwitz, are fuller and more intelligent than most, and with superb sound and budget price tag, it can be enthusiastically recommended.

Tony Haywood



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