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Carl NIELSEN (1865 - 1931)
Symphony No. 3, Op.27 Sinfonia Espansiva (1911)
Symphony No. 4, Op.29 Inextinguishable (1916)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jukka-Pekka Saraste.
recorded at Culture Hall, Helsinki, Finland, in September 1999 (No. 3) and April 1997 (No. 4).
ELATUS 2564 60432-2 [73’18"]

Warner seems to be in overdrive, with re-issues of their modern recordings tumbling out of the shops as though CDs were going out of fashion. What with the Apex and Elatus series, nearly all of this company’s back catalogue is a potential candidate for reissue. With such a flood comes confusion. Still, to an aware consumer, this is an ideal opportunity to buy discs that they previously missed

Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s cycle of the complete Nielsen Symphonies was generally well received on its first release, coupled differently than as at present. At the time, they were being released, the competitive series was on DaCapo with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Schønwandt. This latter cycle was thought generally to be superior, mainly a feeling of rightness in the approach of the Danish players. The competition from Finland however is severe, and now, with the price difference, the Warner series is much more competitive than before.

This means that if you previously bought some of these symphonies, and now wish to complete your series, you may have to suffer some duplication, or indeed to buy the whole cycle anew – those people at Warner are not stupid.

Saraste has been chief conductor of the Helsinki Orchestra for some time now, and this shows by the obvious rapport he enjoys with his players. Both symphonies have that most important feature, and that is the freshness of the playing. They yield nothing to the accuracy of their Danish competitors. These performances complement rather than supersede their competitors, and I would place them right at the forefront of modern symphonic cycles, without forgetting the modern summit, still occupied by Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra on Decca. If however, you want to hear how these symphonies might have been interpreted by Nielsen himself, you should certainly try to hear the complete cycle on a three disc boxed set on Danacord, conducted by such legends in Danish music as Erik Tuxen, Launy Grøndahl and Thomas Jensen. All three were around when Nielsen was alive and conducting his own works, and in some cases, were playing in the orchestra under the baton of the composer. If you can put up with the sound (mostly live concerts given in the late 1940s, early 1950s), you will be astounded by the difference. Conductors and their orchestras simply do not perform these works like this today – they are upholstered insipid performances by comparison. Some of the early performances were recorded subsequently under studio conditions and have been very successfully re-mastered and released by Dutton Laboratories and the like.

Both symphonies recorded here give a very good modern view of each work without scaling the absolute heights as do the earlier performances mentioned above. One point of interest is the prominence given to the timpani in the last movement of No. 4. This is a very important part of the score, displaying the conflict explained by the composer "Music is life and like it, is inextinguishable." The conflict that the composer is working out within the symphony is expressed by the conflict between tonalities, and also between timpani and the remainder of the orchestra. If the timpani are backwardly balanced as they often are, the conflict appears one sided. Here, this is not the case, and I am sure that anyone buying this disc will be overjoyed with this aspect. Warmly recommended.

John Phillips

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