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Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphony No.5, Op.50 (1922)
Flute Concerto (1926)
Entrance March (Aladdin Incidental Music) (1919)
Andrew Nicholson, flute
Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder
Recorded in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 27th - 28th May and 17th October 2002.
Hallé CD HLL 7502 [60.08]


If this disc, in the inaugural batch of Mark Elder's recordings with the Hallé (to be issued through Sanctuary Classics - i.e. ASV, Black Box), is in anyway typical then we are in for a real treat. Nielsen is a 20th century composer of great but understated genius (see also Martinů and Honegger, maybe Milhaud) and the selections of his works performed here (very, very impressively) have been chosen incredibly wisely. Anyone with even a remote handle on the symphonies of the last century will surely know the marvellous 4th Inextinguishable but the 5th is an even more concentrated and typical expression of Nielsen's late muse and much less performed. Likewise, it would have been far more predictable to go for either the violin concerto or the clarinet concerto, both agreed masterpieces, particularly the latter. The work for flute defies convention by eschewing the inherent pastoral connotations of the highlighted instrument in favour of something rather more rigorous. The recording is concluded by a first recording of the original (and later discarded) entrance march for Aladdin - like the rest of the disc it is well worth a listen.

For those who do not know it, the symphony is a marvellous mix of idyllic orchestral sunrise vistas, snare-drum induced menace and ironic(?), almost grotesque (semi-Mahlerian?) folk tunes. As far as Nielsen is concerned, I was raised, musically speaking, on Herbert Blomstedt's superb recordings of his countryman, first for EMI with the DNRSO and later for Decca with the San Francisco Symphony. Both cycles, still widely available, remain highly recommendable, as does Simon Rattle's one off "Inextinguishable". This new release is not in any way overshadowed by these comparisons. The flute concerto draws an expert and often poetic performance from Andrew Nicholson, without necessarily diminishing my particular preference for Jennifer Stinton with the SCO and Steuart Bedford (originally Collins, now reissued, at bargain price, on Regis). The makeweight Aladdin piece strikes me as rather more charming and I suppose slight than its more familiar, stomping replacement.

If you are looking for this coupling of Nielsen works then this disc is self-recommending and even those who already have recordings of some, or even all, of the pieces should make an effort to hear it. If you are tempted and like what you hear then you could do worse than proceed to the Clarinet Concerto (try Boeykens on Harmonia Mundi) or even some of the magnificent piano music (Andsnes on Virgin Classics?). Nielsen is a major and profound yet accessible voice in twentieth century music who still deserves a much wider exposure and the recognition that would surely follow. Many years ago, his tone poem An Imaginary Journey to the Faeroe Isles stirred something uncommonly deep in the young heart and mind of this listener and I have in some ways never recovered. The music on this disc represents a genius at work and if you do not know it then you, or at least your listening habits, may never be the same again. Magnificent stuff!

Neil Horner



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