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Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
CD 1
Symphonic Rhapsody (1889) [8:27]
Helios Overture (1903) [12:01]
Saga-drøm (1907-8) [9:01]

Violin Concerto (1911) [37:20]
CD 2
Pan og Syrinx (1917-18) [8:36]

Flute Concerto (1926) [19:03]
Rhapsody Overture (1927) [9:56]

Clarinet Concerto (1928) [25:36]
Arve Tellefsen (violin); Frantz Lemmser (flute); Kjell-Inge Stevensson (clarinet)
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt
rec. February-April 1975, Danmarks Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen
EMI CLASSICS 3 81503 2 [67:16 + 63:42]


Like many in EMI’s ‘Gemini’ series, this is a straight repackaging of a set which has also seen the light of day as part of their double fforte issues. What a Nielsen feast though! Herbert Blomstedt has long been a respected Nielsen interpreter, and as a set of all of this composer’s concerti, plus a mighty handful of his miscellaneous orchestral works, you can’t go far wrong.

These mid-1970s analogue recordings still sound very good, with a light haze of tape hiss only really being noticeable in quieter moments, like the atmospheric opening to the Helios Overture. The warmth of the string melody combined with the understated horns at around 1:45 always makes me tingle, as does the horn’s entry at 3:40. The analogue recording does cast a slightly foggy cloud over the strings here where the peak levels are reached, but as with most of these performances these are observations rather than criticisms – those of you passionate about distortion-free digital know what to look for. The Danish orchestra have the programmatic sense of works like Saga-drøm in their blood, and I love the lush vibrato in some of those brass chorales.

The core of this set lies in the concertos of course, and these are all very good performances. The grand scale and broad canvas of the Violin Concerto is approached with symphonic strength by Blomstedt, and Arve Tellefsen is a persuasive and sensitive soloist. The only curiosity is the tempo of the final Rondo, which, marked Allegretto scherzando, does seem rather slow. Blomstedt maintains a light touch however, and all of the subtle little brushstrokes of orchestral colour are nicely pointed.

CD 2 begins with an emphatic reading Pan and Syrinx, which Nielsen completed not long after the Fourth Symphony, and the Rhapsody Concerto: An Imaginary Journey to the Faeroe Islands has all of the seafaring glory you could wish for – that theme at 5:05 always makes me want to stand up and salute. The Flute Concerto is one of the best written for the instrument in the 20th Century, and Frantz Lemmser is a capable soloist with an eloquently strong tone through all registers. I particularly like his restraint at crucial moments, such as in the beautiful melody at 4:55 in the first movement. After completing the Fifth Symphony Nielsen had planned to compose concertos for each of the members of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet, but only lived long enough to complete the two we have here. The Clarinet Concerto on this set has been criticised in the past, and Kjell-Inge Stevensson is not the strongest soloist you will come across, although I find his tone and musicality quite acceptable – the occasional dodgy moment between notes being the only real caveat. The music is fascinating however, often inhabiting that surrealist world you can also find in the Sixth Symphony.

This all-in-one concerto package plus extras is as ever quite a bargain, and a fair introduction to Nielsen’s music if you are unfamiliar with his work – although the symphonies are more stunning in general. If it’s the concertos alone you really want then there is a very good single disc on Chandos with Michael Schønwandt which is top of the heap when it comes to complete sets. The recordings and performances on this ‘twofer’ won’t knock many of the more recent versions off the shelves, but you will never go far wrong with this programme; in the safe hands of Blomstedt and the Danish RSO.

Dominy Clements


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