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Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphonic Rhapsody (1888) [9:15]
An Evening on Giske (1889) [6:45]
Helios Overture (1903) [12:50]
Aladdin Suite (1918-19) [25:56]
Rhapsody Overture – An Imaginary Journey to the Faeroe Islands (1927) [10:35]
Amor and the Poet – Overture (1930) [5:20]
New York Scandia Symphony/Dorrit Matson
rec. Trinity Church, New York City, 19 February 2004, 17 February 2005. DDD
CENTAUR CRC 2780 [70:47]

These performances were recorded by an orchestral ensemble committed, as its name implies, to presenting programmes of the classical, romantic and contemporary music of Scandinavia; including little known or seldom performed works. The New York Scandia’s dedication is evident right from the first bar, by their polished and affectionate performances.

The concert opens with Nielsen’s early Symphonic Rhapsody composed shortly after he had completed his studies at the Royal Danish Music Conservatory. It looks back to the Viennese classical tradition of the early nineteenth century; yet, through its overt joyousness and pastoral atmosphere, there is heard emerging, typical Nielsen ‘fingerprints’ of more mature works. An Evening on Giske has remained unpublished and is completely unknown and has not been heard since its first performance in 1890 at Copenhagen. It was composed as incidental music for a drama of the same name. Alas the album’s booklet gives no hint as to the scope of the drama. The music is portentous but slow-paced with moments of pathos - a sort of mix of Fauré and Wagner; fascinating material but of no real consequence.

Much more interesting is the New York Scandia’s performance of the much better-known Helios Overture, composed not long after Nielsen’s Second Symphony The Four Temperaments. It opens most atmospherically: the horns calling, echoing across the sound-stage, beautifully placed by Centaur’s sound engineers. One can visualise, so wondrously, the sunrise over Greek Islands – noble splendour indeed! And that magnificent heroic tune - and those gorgeous contrapuntal string passages, so incisive, so polished in performance here. Only some rather shaky and ponderous horn calls, signalling the concluding sunset, mar an otherwise vital reading.

A colourful and vigorous ‘Oriental Festival March’ opens Matson’s winsome reading of Nielsen’s Aladdin Suite followed by a sensitive and supple ‘Aladdin’s Dream – Dance of the Morning Mists’ coming before the perkier ‘Hindu Dance’, with its captivating ethnic rhythms and upward-curving and intertwining flute figures. Equally charming is the ‘Chinese Dance’ yet, as Elgar seemed to stray very little from Malvern when writing his Far Eastern figures, so Nielsen also seems, here, rather grounded in his familiar Danish locales. ‘The Market Place in Ispahan’, on the other hand, with its more sinuous woodwind patterns and drones shows much more Eastern promise. Nielsen’s mastery of orchestration is on display here – a witty delight in Matson’s hands. Gutsy playing of the turbulent ‘Prisoner’s Dance’ follows; this is another vividly coloured creation with timpani well forward in familiar Nielsen patterning. The vibrant ‘Blackmoor’s Dance’ with castanets and some extraordinary yet, one feels, authentic nasal-like vocalling, brings Aladdin to a wonderfully exciting and hedonistic conclusion.

The Imaginary Journey to the Faeroe Islands makes a fine companion piece to Nielsen’s Helios Overture. This, again, is vividly imaginative sea music. Nielsen himself described it as: "occasional music no more than an exercise from my hand"; but he was being unduly modest for this is a fine evocation. The mood at first is sombre, one can imagine the scream of circling, diving seabirds over a grey sea. The music here is not unlike Britten’s ‘Four Sea Interludes’ from Peter Grimes. The mood lightens as the sea voyage takes us closer to the islands and to the folksong of its inhabitants. There is a patriotic ardour aplenty here.

Finally Amor and the Poet was written for the 125th anniversary celebrations of the birth of Hans Christian Andersen. The composition is based on that author’s fairy tale, The Naughty Boy. At the time Nielsen was 65 years old and his health was deteriorating. But there is no evidence of the malady in this short but vibrant and colourfully inventive evocation of the mischievous little imp.

Matson is an exciting and colourful Nielsen conductor and the dedicated New York Scandia players respond splendidly to her inspired direction. Aladdin is magnificent.

Ian Lace


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