This release is in many ways even more attractive than volume
1, containing the Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6 and reviewed here
earlier. For those who do not know Nielsen’s music, this would
be the perfect place to start.
Both of these symphonies represent the composer at
the height of his maturity and both contain many memorable tunes.
They are also very well orchestrated and contain both power
and poetry. There is not a dull moment in either symphony. Highlights
include the Allegro comodo e flemmatico second movement
of the Second Symphony and the Andante pastorale second
movement of the Third Symphony with its ethereal vocalise by
tenor and soprano. But then there is also the Third’s first
movement with its great waltz and the symphony’s noble finale.
Likewise, the Second has one of the most joyous finales I know
Schønwandt and his Danish forces have the measure of
both symphonies and for my money beat out the competition in
both. The main rival for these works, as with the symphonies
in volume 1, is Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony
on Decca. I did an A/B comparison and feel that the balance
is just tipped in Schønwandt’s favor. There is a certain rightness,
a natural pace, that’s hard to explain, but is definitely there
in these accounts. Furthermore, the warmth of the Danish Radio
Concert Hall is a real advantage in these particular works —
not as crucial in the Sixth Symphony, though. At the same time,
there is a clarity and lightness that allows all the detail
to register. Blomstedt’s accounts tend to be more brilliant,
as is Decca’s sound, and at times can seem a little relentless.
For example, his faster tempo for the Second Symphony’s finale
pushes the music a little harder than Schønwandt’s slightly
slower, but clearer version. Also, the sound as recorded in
San Francisco’s Davies Hall can get muddy in the bass
and make the textures clotted. Schønwandt sets an ideal tempo
in this movement and there is a real feeling of joy in this
Allegro sanguineo. I still like the Blomstedt performances
of these works for their power and the brilliance of the orchestra.
For example, those horns in the waltz climax of the Third Symphony’s
first movement are pretty spectacular, even if Schønwandt’s
more backwardly balanced ones (at 6:09) allow the rest of the orchestra to come through better.
Schønwandt also achieves a perfect placement with his vocal
soloists in this symphony. They are treated as instruments and
blend well with the rest of the orchestra, creating a feeling
of distance. Nonetheless, I would not want to be without either
recording of these works. Then there is Myung-Whun Chung’s highly
regarded BIS recording of the Second Symphony (see review)
coupled with the Aladdin Suite to be considered. I haven’t
heard that one for a number of years, but it was also high in
A couple of extra-musical details should be mentioned.
First, the order of the works as listed above is the order on
the disc. Why they placed the Symphony No. 3 ahead of No. 2
is a mystery. However, it also followed this order on the original
Dacapo CD. It really does not matter as the player can be programmed
to play in either order, if one were wanting to hear the works
in the sequence in which they were composed. Second, as in the
earlier Naxos disc mentioned above, the notes in the booklet
are briefer and less detailed than on the original release —
but very good all the same. Finally, since I have a copy of
the Dacapo disc, I was able to do a sound comparison. I heard
no difference between the original and the new budget release.
This, then, is a real bargain and the best way to have
these symphonies at a very affordable cost. Indeed, I would
recommend them at any price!
see also Review
of Volume 1