I had planned to welcome this CD back into print, but thought
I should check Amazaon.com first. Lo and behold, the original
Dacapo recording is still very much available! The advantages
of that original are the more extensive notes and the cover art:
an interesting portrait of Nielsen on the Dacapo vs. a spring
landscape that could be anywhere. The advantage of this Naxos
CD is, of course, the price.
recordings, themselves, should be well known to all or at least
most lovers of Nielsen’s symphonies. In short, these are two
of the very best renditions of these works. Their main competition
in terms of sound, performance, and interpretation comes from
Herbert Blomstedt, particularly in his later recordings with
the San Francisco Symphony. Those are also available at budget
price in a couple of Decca two-fers containing a few other works
of Nielsen as well. Schønwandt and Blomstedt are different enough
in their interpretations of the symphonies to make both valuable,
but the primary difference is in the sound itself. As recorded,
the San Francisco orchestra seems somewhat beefier with a weightier bass, while the
Danish orchestra is more transparent and lighter. Blomstedt’s
accounts are recorded more closely and at a somewhat higher
level than Schønwandt’s. By raising the volume slightly, the
latter’s accounts are brought into sharper focus and compare
very well with Blomstedt’s. While overall timings are fairly
close, the two conductors diverge in certain movements. For
example, Schønwandt is a bit slower in the first two movements
of Symphony No. 1, but faster than Blomstedt in the last two.
Blomstedt’s brass chorales in the third movement are more imposing
than Schønwandt’s, but the latter’s finale has more bite. In
Symphony No.6, Schønwandt takes more time with the first movement
and impresses with his crisper articulation by the strings.
Overall, Blomstedt’s orchestra is stronger in the brass and
percussion departments, but his woodwinds are not as delectable
as Schønwandt’s. However, I should point out that these differences
are minimal in the larger scheme and preferences for one over
the other are very much a personal thing. For example, I love
the way Schønwandt brings out the flute, clarinet and oboe parts
in the Sixth Symphony’s second movement, but miss the really
rude trombone slides that Blomstedt provides. It must be said,
however, that the Danes play this music to the manner born and
their very fluency should not be taken for granted.
am always struck by the greatness of Nielsen’s six symphonies.
All of them are masterpieces and all have that unmistakable
Nielsen sound. If the First Symphony shows influences of Brahms
in places and the Sixth looks forward to Bartók and Shostakovich
they are at the same time pure Nielsen. Every respectable collection
of twentieth-century music should contain at least one set of
these works and Schønwandt’s are as good a place to start as
any, especially at the lower cost available now. For the record,
these recordings use the new critical edition of the symphonies.
Listening to Blomstedt and Schønwandt side by side, I could
not discern any differences between the standard edition that
Blomstedt presumably used and the new one. I imagine a close
study of the scores would reveal some variants in scoring. The
general listener, though, should find either recording satisfying.
For myself, I have a slight preference for Schønwandt’s recording
of the First Symphony and Blomstedt’s of the Sixth. Naxos
is in the process of issuing the remaining symphonies, with
the disc containing the Second and Third next. In the meantime
do pick up a copy of this CD at your earliest opportunity, particularly
if you don’t know these wonderful works.
see also Review
by Dan Morgan