I’m not going
to mess around. This is a cracking disc on which an interesting
and enterprising programme is splendidly delivered. I’m sorry
to say that up to now I’d never heard of, much less heard,
the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra or their Swedish Principal
Conductor, Niklás Willén. On the evidence of these recordings
that’s my loss.
gives us a generous slice of Nielsen’s theatrical music. The
most substantial item, in terms of duration, is the seven-movement
suite that Nielsen extracted from the incidental music that
he wrote for Adam Oehlenschläger’s play, Aladdin. This
is brightly coloured and highly enjoyable music, including
an opening Festival March, played here with no little swagger.
There’s a Hindu Dance, which sways gently and a Chinese Dance,
the music to which doesn’t display much obvious chinoiserie
but which is nonetheless infectious, especially when delivered
as deftly as here. Of particular musical note is the movement
in which Nielsen depicts the Marketplace in Ispahan. You might
expect a brilliantly fast episode here but in fact Nielsen
illustrates the bustle of the market in a quite different
but brilliantly original way. The music is actually quite
slow moving but he combines no less than four different themes,
which compete against each other, adroitly suggesting the
hubbub of a teeming marketplace. The suite concludes with
a Negro Dance, which is all headlong excitement, the rhythms
crisply articulated here. This is a splendid rendition of
a suite of colourful and resourceful music.
of two excerpts from Nielsen’s opera, Maskarade is
timely for British listeners, as the complete work has recently
been staged in London. The infectiously gay overture is quite
well known as a concert item. It receives a vivacious performance
here. Much less familiar, except to those who know the complete
opera, is the Act Two prelude. It’s a gentle little gem, which
Niklás Willén and his team play winningly. It was a splendid
idea to follow the boisterous overture with this easeful piece,
not least because it shows that the performers can play with
sensitivity as well as with brio.
The final theatrical
item is the overture to another venture by Nielsen into the
world of incidental music for plays. Cupid and the Poet
was completely new to me. In fact I see that the overture
remained unpublished until as recently as 1967. It’s a strange
piece, inhabiting the rarified sound world of other late works
such as the Sixth Symphony (1924-5), the Flute Concerto (1926)
and the Clarinet Concerto (1928). Textures are spare and the
music is somewhat astringent. It doesn’t sound much like you’d
expect an overture to sound but, then, it’s a little difficult
to evaluate the piece when shorn of the remaining incidental
We’re on much
more familiar territory with the Helios Overture. This
is a quite splendid piece and I was delighted to find that
it’s very well done here. The magical (and difficult) opening
is well realised and Willén builds the music impressively
to a majestic climax before the main allegro. This strides
along purposefully, as it should do. I did wonder in this
work, which is the most heavily scored on the disc, if the
string section was a little underpowered – there are 65 full-time
members of the orchestra though I suspect some reinforcements
were called in for this programme. However, that’s a fairly
minor cavil in the face of a performance that blazes with
conviction. The principal horn player distinguishes himself
in the poetic closing pages.
I was also impressed
with the other two works in the programme. Saga-Drøm
is an elusive work. Here it gets a convincing and atmospheric
reading. There’s some excellent work from the woodwind section,
who are on fine form throughout the disc, and every time the
quiet, pensive brass chorale appears it’s very well enunciated.
Finally Pan and Syrinx, a superb work but one that
is very difficult to bring off, is splendidly done. Nielsen’s
orchestral scoring is individual even by his standards in
this work. Sample, for instance, the evocative cor anglais
solo at 3’28”. What an inspiration to accompany this initially
with just some tinklings on the glockenspiel! Later other
instruments join in and this whole imaginative episode is
most successfully handled.
My only “complaint”
about this disc is that it’s had to wait three years to be
issued. The playing of the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra
is assured and committed while Niklás Willén seems to have
a real feel for this music. The sound quality was very good
on my equipment, with all sections of the orchestra well reported.
The notes are useful.
This disc offers
an excellent introduction to the marvellous music of Carl
Nielsen. However, established Nielsen enthusiasts should also
add this splendid anthology to their collections without delay.
Another winner from Naxos, which I recommend very warmly indeed.