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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
The Complete Symphonies (1892-1925)

Symphony No. 1 (1892) [34:34]
Symphony No. 2 Four Temperaments (1902) [31:55]
Symphony No. 3 Sinfonia Espansiva (1911) [36:26]
Symphony No. 4 Inextinguishable (1916) [34:02]
Symphony No. 5 (1921) [35:43]
Symphony No. 6 Sinfonia Semplice (1925) [35:02]
London Symphony Orchestra/Ole Schmidt
In Symphony No. 3 only: Brian Rayner Cook (bar); Jill Gomez (sop)
Originally recorded by Unicorn in 1973, St Giles, London, ADD
REGIS RRC 3002 [70.51+73.28+69.45]


(Available separately: Symphonies 4 and 5 REGIS RRC 1036; Symphonies 1-3 and 6 REGIS RRC 2046)

I suspect that like myself, many of my contemporaries have a great nostalgic affection for this set of the Nielsen Symphonies which Regis have reissued at bargain price. What is more it is in excellent refurbished sound of an even better quality than the Bob Auger-engineered original.

Other Nielsen Symphonies cycles may have appeared since 1973 but for me this one has never been surpassed for the sheer vitality and intensity of its readings.


A personal memory

Before I go into the detail of my review, I hope the editor will allow me to make a point. The music of Nielsen was a closed book to me until I watched a TV thriller serial in the early 1970s. I cannot recall its title but I think it starred Alan Badel. I was overwhelmed by the introductory music which I learnt after enquiry to the TV production company was from Nielsen’s Third Symphony "Sinfonia Espansiva". And so I became acquainted with the Ole Schmidt recordings that Unicorn released probably separately (my memory does not serve me too well in this context) as well as in the LP box set that I repeatedly hired from the local music library

Then the Musicians Union adopted a short-sighted ruling that recorded classical music excerpts could no longer be used in this manner. Short-sighted because it seemed to me that they were "shooting themselves in the foot" somewhat because musicians should be worrying about declining audiences especially amongst the young. Surely use of recognised classical music in such contexts is to be welcomed as an investment in the future, to introduce great music to such new audiences?

Missing bonus?

The last side of the last LP in the box set had a bonus which, alas, Regis have not been able to accommodate on the 3 CDs that make up this otherwise splendid reissue set. That bonus was composer and Nielsen scholar, Dr Robert Simpson’s insightful commentaries on each of the six symphonies. (see footnote)

The Recordings

Lest this review stretch out uncontrollably, my comments will be concise. Starting with Nielsen’s Symphony No. 3 ("Sinfonia Espansiva") the first of his symphonies to meet international success and the most likeable and optimistic of the set, Schmidt opens with a really arrestingly powerful and thrusting pattern of As and an exhilarating D major melody. His Andante pastorale with its interweaving wordless voices is quite magical. Schmidt also realises to the full the youthful confidence and bold rhythms of First Symphony with its tug-of-war between keys. The emotions of the "Four Temperaments" Symphony No. 2 are also well expressed: fierce anger in the opening ‘choleric’ movement contrasting with the idyllic pastoral mood of the second, ‘phlegmatic’, movement; the plaintive ‘melancholic’ third; and the ‘sanguine’ finale as epitomised by a sighing oboe.

Schmidt’s realisation of Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony "Inextinguishable" is tremendously exciting - it is stunning in its power and awesome violence (one wonders if his music influenced Bernard Herrmann?) but sensitively playful, humorous and tender in its calmer stretches. The famous frantic timpani explosions resound across the sound-stage with devastating effect. The ferocity of the Fourth continues over into the Fifth Symphony and Schmidt delivers another white-hot reading (the lava on the booklet artwork being very apposite) with conflict thundering between keys and its vicious snare drum punctuations. But Schmidt plumbs emotional depths of fear and despair in his thoughtful reading of the Sixth Symphony. Apart from the amusing lampooning of avant-garde 20th century music that is the brief Humoreske movement, this symphony is stormy and nightmarish with Nielsen’s heart attack writ frighteningly in music that is often grotesque and unsettling with bells heralding - oblivion …?

Footnotes

It is worth reminding ourselves that the London Symphony Orchestra reached a peak of perfection in the 1970s. It was during this period that André Previn conducted the orchestra in a series of outstanding recordings including Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, Walton’s First Symphony and an acclaimed cycle of Vaughan Williams symphonies.

Even if you already have a Nielsen symphonies cycle I do urge you to invest in this beautifully refurbished set – the first stereo version recorded. It is a classic and at Regis’s bargain price a very real bargain.

Ian Lace

footnote Regis inform us they did not receive masters from Ole Schmidt (owner of the repertoire) which contained the Simpson talks, which would have been copyright of his (RS) widow I guess - so they were not given opportunity to use them.

see also review by Rob Barnett



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