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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphony No. 3 Sinfonia Espansiva (1911) [36.14]
Symphony No. 4 Inextinguishable (1915) [35.31]
BBC Scottish SO/Osmo Vänskä
rec. City Hall, Glasgow, Scotland, 17-18 Mar 2002 (3); 5-6 May 2002 (4) DDD
BIS BIS-CD-1209 [72.48]


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The Scottish National Orchestra (now the RSNO) under Alexander Gibson were moderately active during the 1960s and 1970s with some good Sibelius on Saga. Chandos and Neeme Järvi propelled them into the international market. However their BBC colleagues had little or nothing of a profile commercially until Hyperion began to use them extensively for the Romantic Piano Concerto series and then with increasing frequency in other projects such as the Cecil Coles CD and the wonderful Bortkiewicz symphonies.

Bis began some time ago to sit up and take notice and have already used the BBC Scottish for various of their Macmillan series. Now BIS are freshening their Nielsen catalogue with what will be a complete cycle at a time when the world is raining such cycles. The competition is numerous and strong: Blomstedt (San Francisco, Decca), Schønwandt (Dacapo), Schmidt (Regis), Chung and Järvi on Bis, Penny (Naxos), Bostock on ClassicO, Berglund on BMG, Bernstein/Ormandy on Sony, historic Danish recordings on Danacord and so on. Vänskä has already launched the series with the pairing beloved of Ormandy and so well done by him with the Philadelphians: the first and the last symphonies (BIS-CD-1079).

Bis are up against it from the 'enemy within'. Their recording of Espansiva with Chung remains a non-pareil in my book. I consider it the best of Chung's partial cycle. Chung's has openness and power and the recording is superb with a startlingly natural sound combined with galvanic playing. Vänskä and the Scots are faster, finding more abandoned fury in the first movement; so much so that the wheels are close to coming off the axles at one point. The brass is rendered with just as much gutsy bloom and rasp as in the Chung and they do sound wonderful in the finale. So go for this if you like a volcanic approach - Mravinsky but without the Maserati of the Leningrad PO - instead a top of the range Jaguar. By contrast the vocalising but non-sensual soprano and baritone roles are effacingly balanced to a greater extent than I recall from any other recording. Vänskä delivers a smashing blow to launch and loft the Inextinguishable. Though Vänskä keep feeding massive draughts of oxygen into the furnace his orchestra responds with virtuoso technique keeping better control than in the first movement of 'their' Espansiva. I find myself having written much about the high octane side but tender expression is rendered with fidelity too as in the finale of the Fourth at 3.12 (tr.8) where the pp violins are precise and caressing. My reservations are quibbling but I felt, rather than could measure, some slackening in the impelling forward power in the finale of the symphony. This very subjective impression applies only to the Inextinguishable and is a matter of slight shading rather than dramatic attention.

Good to excellent performances, extremely well engineered. For Espansiva you should still prefer Chung over this and consider Schmidt and Bernstein. In the Fourth Vänskä's main competition is from Schmidt and Schønwandt.

Rob Barnett


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