Nielsen's core orchestral achievement all in a single
I can only accept that the black and amber design does
not shout 'buy' at you but BIS has always preoccupied itself with
musical values first and foremost. In fact, if you remember them, the
company’s LPs shared the same sombre design speaking of a quiet confidence
in their products' musical merits. Is that confidence well placed in
this case? Emphatically, yes!
Myung-Whun Chung's version of the Third has to be among
the best in the catalogue. His sense of thrust and momentum, rhythmic
craft and accent is phenomenal. When you couple this with a recording
that deserves a place in the Hall of Fame you have a winning combination.
This is simply glorious music-making with the brass given their unblushing
place centre-stage. Tender moments are not lost either - listen for
example to the lissom Rimskian rocking and lilting at 2.23 in the final
movement - an Antar influence or what? Similar strengths radiate
from Chung's version of the First, Second (the same blaze of energy,
the same coarsely blown brassy glories and the same perfect recording
quality) and Fifth though the latter is not quite as overwhelming as
The Järvi disc takes us into the more 'modernistic'
phase of Nielsen's symphonies. In fact Järvi recorded all six for
DG but, as yet, I have not heard them. I wonder if Chung felt attracted
to these works. While not losing sight of or grip on the tumult and
blaze of the Fourth Symphony (shades of Vivaldi's Winter at the
start of the Fourth movement and of Sibelius's Lemminkainen's Return)
Järvi's Fourth is specially memorable for its flowingly coloured
pastoralism. The Sixth remains enigmatic despite a lucidly detailed
recording which makes the most of the work's other-worldly pointillism.
Järvi is very good at putting across the work's humour. However
my first recommendation for this work has to be Ormandy on SONY.
All four discs feature the Gothenburg Symphony (Göteborgs
Symfoniker).Three of the four contain works (concertos and symphonies
1-3, 5) directed by Myung-Whun Chung and the fourth has symphonies 4
and 6 conducted by Neeme Järvi. Bis must have been frustrated at
not being able to hold Myung-Whun Chung to finishing the cycle. From
this viewpoint the BIS cycle resembles the SONY with conductorial
duties split between two conductors (Järvi/Chung as against Ormandy/Bernstein).
The concertos are strong contenders in a field less
crowded than that for the symphonies. Dong-Suk Kang's fluent and fluid
power is memorable. I heard his Naxos version of the Elgar Violin Concerto
recently and this is of similar exalted quality though not on quite
the same plane as Sammons, Bean or Heifetz. The Flute Concerto in which
the rowdy upstart flute of Patrick Gallois slugs it out with the rude
and obstreperous trombone takes pride of place on the concerto disc.
The Clarinet Concerto (Ole Schill) is also given an excellent outing
though its charms as a work are more sphinx-like than the Flute Concerto.
The competition for this box is indirect. Where else
will you find a coupling like this? You won't. You are getting the complete
symphonies on three CDs and the complete concertos on another. Going
back to LP days and 1974-75, EMI Classics issued the DRSO/Herbert
Blomstedt series in one whopping box but even that was fleshed out with
a beneficent cloud of smaller orchestral Nielseniana. The closest approximation
is a SONY Classics box of the CBS Nielsen symphony cycle (Ormandy and
Bernstein) with the clarinet and flute concertos (Drucker/Baker), no
violin concerto and a small flock of slighter or at least shorter pieces.
That box is now deleted and in its place the wind concertos have just
come out on one SONY Essential Classics CD and those symphonies
in a bargain price box - recommendable with an extreme Bernstein 3 and
the most lucid account I have ever heard of No. 6 (Ormandy). Set against
this the 1960s analogue vintage of these CBS recordings. Blomstedt/SFSO
(not heard by me but very highly thought of generally) are still at
full price. The recent Dacapo Schønwandt box of the complete
symphonies is extremely good and the tangiest analogue recordings of
the Symphonies (LSO/Ole Schmidt) are still there in a bargain priced
set from Regis. Timorous souls might like to note that most reviewers
have criticised those Unicorn derived tapes (c 1974 and for many a year
matched up against Blomstedt's Danish RSO series on EMI) for their orchestral
rough edges. Personally I find them irresistible still. BMG intermittently
offer the Berglund Royal Danish Orchestra cycle at bargain price. I
have a lot of time for Berglund (his Bournemouth Fifth on EMI is every
bit as strong as his EMI recordings of the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies
of Vaughan Williams) but I have not yet been able to hear that set and
other reviewers have urged caution. Danacord's historic recordings cycles
include a box of all six symphonies variously conducted by Tuxen, Jensen
and others. I would like to review that set at some point but with its
archival mono sound quality it is sui generis and not to be compared
with the BIS set.
It is part of the critic's currency always to caution
against complete recordings of a symphonic cycle by one conductor with
one orchestra. Well while it certainly was not planned, this set places
Chung alongside Järvi and gives that variety.
On price you will need to shop around but the set is
catalogue-priced at four CDs for the price of three. The older Blomstedt
is spread across various midprice EMIs and numbers 5 and 6 are missing
from the catalogue at present.
You cannot go far wrong with most of the complete Nielsen
symphony recordings on the market. This one however has great versions
of the Second and Third Symphonies in which the impetuous power of the
life force drives belligerently forward. The others appear in excellent
readings. The Gothenburg Orchestra should use this set as calling card.
It portrays them in a light that places them in the same columned pantheon
in which we find the Philadelphia, the Leningrad (in Mravinsky's day)
and the Philharmonia in Boult's studio time with them in the early-mid
This outstanding set is something of a 'sleeper' having
been around for at least a decade. If you have your doubts then sample
the Third Symphony and the Flute Concerto. All in all: musicmaking that
is rapturously airborne, lyrically triumphant, and uproarious.