This disc has been issued by Danacord to celebrate the 2009 Nicolai
Malko conducting competition, which took place in Copenhagen
in May. The recorded live performance
reissued thus dates from January 1955, which was the occasion of the 25th anniversary
of Malko’s first performance with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
The coupling of the third Leonora Overture of Beethoven with the Ninth
Symphony formed the complete concert programme on that occasion, and it is found
on this generously filled single CD.
Nicolai Malko (1883-1961) was one of the great conductors of the 20th century,
and his work with the Danish Radio Orchestra was consistent and enduring. Only
during the war years was the relationship interrupted, and it was resumed immediately
afterwards. Since this issue is very much a celebration of Malko’s relationship
with Denmark, it is no surprise that the accompanying documentation should focus
in this direction rather than towards the music. But why need it be the one at
the expense of the other? Even a short note on the Beethoven compositions, and
the texts and translations of the symphony’s finale, could have been possible
in serving the needs of the purchaser, and had the effect of turning this recording
into a viable addition to the catalogue. As it stands, this is clearly directed
at the historical-specialist category.
By 1955 orchestral recordings were becoming quite full-toned, and parts of this
concert have richly sonorous climaxes. The Leonore Overture No. 3, which
comes first, is taut and dramatic, but its more lyrical moments are often undermined
by intrusive contributions from the audience. This is a phenomenon that is still
very much alive today, more than fifty years on. Why is it that coughers feel
that their birthright is best indulged when the music is at its most restrained
The first movement of the symphony is impressive, and thankfully it suffers less
from audience participation. The discipline of the orchestral ensemble is a notable
characteristic, and helps brings an emphatic and unequivocal conclusion.
The second movement Scherzo is again tightly controlled and the dramatic
rhythms are nothing if not impressive. While the timpani do not have the benefit
of precisely focused modern sound, the player’s contributions still make
their mark. In this movement should we take Beethoven’s metronome marking
at face value? The problem of the tempo for the contrasting Trio section
is cunningly solved by Malko adopting lyrical phrasing at a relatively quick
speed, in the manner for example undertaken by Günter Wand in his thoroughly
recommendable recording of the symphony (RCA Red Seal 74321 68005 2). Malko is
ungenerous with repeats, however, whose inclusion can add a full five minutes
to this movement. Had he indulged so, of course, the single-disc option would
not have been available to Danacord.
The slow movement has an eloquent relationship of tempi between the initial Adagio and
the later Andante, whose theme was famously described by Sir George Grove
as ‘guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes of strong men with whiskers’.
Occasionally the challenges and pitfalls of live recording are experienced in
this movement, as when the fourth horn does not quite manage to bring off his
And so to the finale. It is here that both performance and recording encounter
problems. The initial hubbub sounds more scrappy than it might, while the ensuing
recitative is not ‘in tempo’, as Beethoven requested, but indulgently
expressive. When the voices arrive there are all manner of problems in terms
of recorded balance, but they are chiefly in the area of soloists too close,
chorus too distant. The bass Holger Byrding makes a strong impression with an
arresting initial solo, but he spoils matters somewhat by letting the rhythm
sag. On the credit side Malko achieves a suitable ebb and flow of tension and
relaxation as the variations proceed, while the final bars are as exciting and
invigorating as could be.