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Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Prelude to Act II Saul and David [5.35]
Rhapsody Overture FS123 A fantasy voyage to the Faeroes [9.31]
The Mother FS94 - Prelude Scene 7 [4.00]
Little Suite for Strings Op. 1 FS6 [16.30]
Pan and Syrinx - pastorale Op. 49 FS87 [8.36]
En Sagadrøm FS46 [8.44]
Maskarade: Overture; Prelude to Act II; Dance of the Cockerels [14.08]
Odense Symphony Orchestra/Tamás Vetö
rec. Feb-May 1988, Odense Concert Hall, Carl Nielsen Salen. DDD
REGIS RRC1166 [67:38]

The lighter Nielsen is presented in a collection first issued on Big Ben and now rescued from deletion perdition through a licence direct to Regis from the Odense Orchestra.

This is Regis's third Nielsen foray. Not so very long ago I reviewed and welcomed an ex-Unicorn reissue from the same forces. Regis also have what remains one of the most attractive bargains in the catalogue, the Ole Schmidt/LSO analogue recordings (RRC 3002) of the six Nielsen symphonies (previously on Unicorn LPs circa 1974 and then reissued in the late 1980s on Unicorn Souvenir CDs).

After a rather stolid Saul and David Prelude orchestra and conductor get into their stride with a very strong and singable Little Suite. It is like a cousin to Sibelius's Rakastava, Grieg's Holberg and Ireland's Downland. If you are at all attracted to twentieth century tonal string music do try this.

If the Saul and David prelude carries resonances from the first two symphonies, the Rhapsody Overture from almost three decades later is more up-to-date at least in some details. The Faeroese folksong rings warmly with Wagnerian sincerity but the wind figures that decorate this anthem are wholly late Nielsen. The second part of the overture romps explosively along with some anarchic energy at 6.31. The overture is not the most convincing of Nielsen's works seeming to peter out rather than arriving at a rounded conclusion.

The Prelude to the seventh scene of The Mother (properly translated as The Motherland) is earnestly lyrical, rather Brahmsian with only the odd ‘skirl’ declaring Nielsen as the creator. The rounded hymnal rings out like as national anthem much as the first section of the Rhapsody Overture in tr. 2.

Pan and Syrinx is mature and very strong Nielsen. It dates from 1918 and tells of Pan's passionate animalistic pursuit of the nymph Syrinx and of her transformation into a reed. This is music of a similar vintage to the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies. As for the subject matter, there is a plethora of Greek classical (or at least Mediterranean) subjects which have inspired Scandinavian composers. Sibelius's Oceanides and The Nymph, Peterson-Berger's Second Symphony (you must hear that work!) and Nystroem's Sinfonia del Mare was inspired by the Mediterranean rather than the Baltic or Arctic oceans. Nielsen’s own best known tone poem, Helios, was concerned with the Greek sun. Vetö and his orchestra neatly catch the dissonant fantastical visions especially the wild chase coloured in by terrific woodwind playing. There is even a touch of Delius's Paradise Garden in the writing for flute at 7.20.

After warmer climes and classical legend Nielsen returns to Scandinavian legend for Saga-Drøm. This is earlier although still a mature work. This tells of Gunnar of Hlidarende being taken by longship into exile in Norway. He dreams. The music takes on that warm anthemic tone we find in The Mother and in the Rhapsody Overture. A chaffing subject recalls Bruckner's Romantic Symphony. The fanfares are very well caught. This dream vision returns into the silence from which it emerged.

Lastly there are three 'bleeding chunks' from the light opera Maskarade. The overture is dashed off with the sort of uproarious exuberance found in the Four Temperaments. The orchestra play with world class unanimity. This music is a successor to Smetana's Bartered Bride. This same spirit is carried over into later works such as Rosenberg's Orpheus in Town. The Prelude to Act II is a delicious invocation to which the solo French horn lends distinctive honeyed character. The Dance of the Cockerels recalls the Bohemian bonhomie of Smetana's Bride and Dvořák's Slavonic Dances but updated with a coarsened edge and a hiccuping grace

It would be wonderful if Regis and whoever now controls the Goldsmith Unicorn catalogue could agree on licensing their 1970s tapes of both Nielsen operas - Maskarade and Saul and David. Of course, much more modern recordings already exist on Decca and Chandos (Ulf Schirmer) and historic recordings of the two operas are on a Danacord set but those Unicorn sets were well worth hearing even if there were problems with the lead in Saul and David.

Until then you can relish this recommendable collection which concentrates on the lighter and more concise Nielsen (five of the nine tracks are theatre music). This is a vividly characterised and easily recommendable anthology and the Little Suite receives one of its most winning recordings ever.

Rob Barnett

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