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Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
The Six Symphonies and Choral works conducted by Blomstedt and Wöldike

Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphonies 1-4

Symphony No. 1 (1889-1894) FS16 [35.53]
Symphony No. 2 The Four Temperaments (1901-1902) FS29 [33.48]
Bøhmisk-dansk folketone FS130 [7:29]
Symphony No. 3 Sinfonia Espansiva (1910-1911) FS60 ‡ [35.57]
Symphony No. 4 The Inextinguishable (1914-1916) FS76 [34.08]
Andante Lamentoso - At the bier of a young artist [4:49]
Kirsten Schulz (sop); Peter Rasmussen (ten) ‡
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt
rec. Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen, Sept 1973 - Feb 1975 stereo ADD
recorded in cooperation with Danmarks Radio
EMI CLASSICS DOUBLE FFORTE 7243 2 74188 2 [77.34+75.15]

Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphonies 5 and 6 and choral works

Symphony No. 5 (1920-1922) FS97 ¤ [35.49]
Symphony No. 6 Sinfonia Semplice (1924-1925) FS116 [35.31]
Hymnus Amoris FS12 (1897) [22:51]
Søvnen (Sleep) FS18 (1902) [18:06]
Wind Quintet in A FS43 (1922) []
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt (5, 6)
Bodil Gøbel (sop); Tonny Landy (ten); Bent Norup (bar); Mogens Schmidt Johansen (bass); Hans Christian Andersen (bass); Copenhagen Boys' Choir (Hymnus)
Danish Radio Chorus (Søvnen)
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mogens Wöldike
Melos Ensemble
rec. Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen, Nov 1973 - Oct 1976 (symphonies and choral); Dec 1976, Studio 1, Abbey Road, Dec 1967 (quintet) stereo ADD
recorded in cooperation with Danmarks Radio (except Quintet)
EMI CLASSICS DOUBLE FFORTE 7243 5 74299 2 [71.24 + 65.15]

Nielsen was once as rare a visitor to the record catalogue as Mahler. It was not all that long ago that the Nielsen symphonies were not available as a complete set from one conductor and orchestra. 1975 saw all that change. Before then you could get to grips with these Danish symphonies through isolated recordings conducted by Jensen, Tuxen, Tango, Bernstein, Previn and Ormandy. Of course latterly there were others including Rattle, Karajan, Thomson and others. In 1975 the 110th anniversary of Nielsen's birth fell. During the early 1970s Danish Radio and EMI Classics launched a complete series of the symphonies. The studio broadcast were taken on by the Danish Radio SO and the selected conductor was the young Herbert Blomstedt. I seem to recall that the studio tapes were broadcast by the BBC as well and the EMI recordings were of separate sessions.

In any event in 1975 record shops took delivery of supplies of a thunderingly large spanking new Nielsen box. There were eight LPs and extensive notes. The cover bore a bas relief medal of Nielsen's head. The box was pretty comprehensive with most of the free-standing short orchestral pieces including several never previously recorded. The six symphonies were there plus the three concertos.

The present two EMI Classics sets include the six symphonies, two of the short orchestral pieces, two choral pieces (Hymnus Amoris and Søvnen) conducted by Mogens Wöldike as well as the Melos Ensemble's recording of the wind quintet. Each two CD set is in a single width case with decent notes by Peter Avis who has worked hard to give the commentary a fresh twist. No words or translations are provided though EMI remind us that these are to be had on the EMI Classics website.

Over the years since 1975 EMI have mined that massive Blomstedt set time and again. In the days of the LP various items were issued on HMV Greensleeves. In the CD era many of the recordings were reissued on EMI Matrix as well as the current Double Fforte issues. I would not be at all surprised to see this series appearing piecemeal on EMI Gemini.

Blomstedt does not shy away from the rambunctious elements in the first two symphonies yet he also can emote in the calming brooks of andante of the First. This mood returns for the second movement of the Fourth. There is plenty of excitement and visceral excitement in the allegro orgoglioso of the First and the outer movements of the Second Symphony.

The first disc ends with the Beecham style soothing of the Bohemian-Danish Folk Tune rather than anything too demanding - no sign of Pan and Syrinx or Helios.

The second CD erupts with the solar plexus punches of the opening of Espansiva. As with the Fourth Symphony this work, in its moments of placid chilly stillness (second movement), draws its creative strength from pastoral images as spiritually provocative as those that suffuse the Pastoral and Fifth symphonies of Vaughan Williams. The brass are vividly captured: listen to their coarse blurt and blare at the start of the third movement of Espansiva. The finale, like the first movement, has a bracingly confident and swinging stride. The brass skirl and all is well in the thunderously affirmative finale.

Blomstedt goads his Danish Radio players into a pulse-racing start to the Fourth Symphony. In the space of less than two minutes the strength of the EMI technical team is evidenced in the towering evocative ‘shouts of joy’ as well as in the cello's well-efined solo voice. The massively poignant fff string assault at the start of third movement is so strong it might easily be Shostakovich as in the symphonies 5 , 6 or 7. The celebratory brass pull no punches in the last movement allegro. This erupts like a landscape alive with fumaroles. Allegro is hardly the word for much of this. The rolling tawny horns make a magnificent sound at 2.13 and 2.16.

The andante lamentoso serves a similar Beecham-valedictory purpose as the Folk Tune at the end of CD1. Massive string sonority sings out and embraces the listener.

The second set places the last two symphonies with Sleep, Hymnus Amoris and the Wind Quintet. Those two symphonies are in stark contrast to each other. The Sixth's almost Webern-like spareness and pawky humour contrasts with the masterly two movement Fifth in which the active and the reflective meet. The enigma of the Sixth meets the heroic-epic Fifth. The effect of the contrast is comparable with the difference between Sibelius 4 and 5. Blomstedt and the Danish Radio players clearly know the music like the back of their hands. This allows time and space for some tense and memorable characterisation. This can be heard in the Fifth in the dazzle of birdsong at 6.30 in the first movement. Armies march across the Nielsen landscape captured in a capacious soundstage that accommodates both massive climaxes and spot-lit solos - and there are many of these.

The second CD in the second box could easily have accommodated all three Nielsen concertos from the original box. Instead EMI dart off in another, though related, direction. We leave Blomstedt behind and go for two major choral/orchestral works conducted by Mogens Wöldike (b. 1897). Hymnus Amoris was prompted by memories of his honeymoon in Italy with Anne Marie Brodersen his sculptress wife. This is a rounded and warmly songful work with more than a trace of the Brahmsian heritage but mixed with the first intimations of Nielsen's distinctive pastoral voice. The piece ends in jubilation - bells and all. Four years later during the early 1900s he wrote Søvnen (Sleep). The four separately banded movements speak of Childhood, Youth , Manhood and Old Age and do this through the latin poetry of Johan Ludvig Heiberg. This work is in three movements and is for chorus setting poems by Johannes Jørgensen. Nielsen conducted the premiere in 1905. An eldritch cabalistic rite (En kval - en Tynge ... Ve mig - er jeg vaagen) painted in sinister sounds separates two peaceful episodes in which Nielsen's elysian Brahmsian choral style is dominant. All ends in a murmurous glow.

The Melos Ensemble give us their late 1960s Wind Quintet. This work is from Nielsen's high maturity and bursts with character. It was written for the five musicians of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet: Sven Christian Felumb (oboe), who later conducted extracts from Nielsen's Aladdin music, Paul Hagemann (flute), Knud Lassen (bassoon), Aage Oxenvad (clarinet) and Hans Sørensen (horn). They gave the first public performance on 9 October 1922. The Quintet is in three movements: pensive and bubblingly active in a restful glowing way. The Melos Ensemble are well under the skin of this music and village band wheeziness comes easily to them as required in the middle movement. Strange bleak and lonely moods are also well put across as in the creaking bleakness of Praeludium leading to the pastoral roundels, country church harmonies and quirky defiance of the Tema con variazioni.

At this mid price/bargain end of the catalogue there is competition although not like-for-like. For years the Ole Schmidt/LSO Unicorn series vied head to head with the Blomstedt EMI. So it continues now. Regis have packed the three Unicorn CDs containing only the six symphonies and rolled this out at bargain price. Schmidt's cycle may have had its imprecisions but it is superbly recorded (Bob Auger) and still rates top recommendation at bargain and midfield levels. If you like the spread and reach of these two Nielsen Double Ffortes then go for it - you will be tapping into some excellent Nielsen readings. If you want just the symphonies at bargain price then go for the Regis - it’s a stunning bargain and should be snapped up quickly. If you want even more character and are prepared to ‘put up’ with sixties sound then try the Sony Essential Classics box with the symphonies variously conducted by Ormandy and Bernstein.

The readings are splendid and Blomstedt's lively imagination and attention to mood and instrumental detail make these recordings endlessly rewarding. They sound better than ever (and I still have that massive breeze block of a box under the stairs). The work of David Mottley, Evald Rasmussen and Neville Boyling can now be much better appreciated.

Rob Barnett

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