Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphony No.1 (1893) [35:25]
Saul and David - Prelude to Act II (1902) [5:20]
London Symphony Orchestra/Andre Previn
rec. RCA, 1967, London, England
Transferred from LP LSC – 2961

I suppose there are some first symphonies that are as confident and masterly as the Nielsen. We could name those by Prokofiev and Enescu; the Shostakovich never really snagged or held my interest despite its acclaim. Nielsen’s however is a remarkably well formed and assured piece of work, bursting with musical interest and already almost completely characteristic of the composer’s mature style.

The 28 year old Nielsen’s First Symphony is here given a stunning outing. André Previn was still, at the time, new to the same London Symphony Orchestra – an orchestra that was to make him and in much the same way that he made them. When he migrated to EMI Classics in the early 1970s so did they.

While his recordings with RCA were blighted by crude and thin-sounding Dynagroove LPs the reputation of the music-making bore exalted witness. His Shostakovich 5, Walton 1 and Rachmaninov 2 (cut) and 3 stand up well even today. Some of these works he went onto re-record with EMI and then with Telarc; not so the Nielsen. What’s more, strangely, this is the only Nielsen symphony Previn appears to have recorded, ever. It was issued on RCA Red Seal SB 6714 and RCA Victor LSC 2961. CD reissue came in 1994 on RCA Classical Navigator 74321 21296-2 alongside the Martinon/Chicago Symphony No. 4.

The First Symphony, echoing as it does with the sounds of Dvorák 8, could hardly be projected with greater impulsive conviction and blistering power. Imagine a Previn Nielsen Four Temperaments to challenge Chung on Bis or a Fifth Symphony to square up to Ole Schmidt (Regis) or Berglund (EMI). The first and final movements simply fly, growl and roar magnificently. The second movement is stirring and monumental when it is not tender. Leafy Dvorákian tenderness also marks out the pastoral Allegro commodo. The hymnal-soulful Prelude to Act II of Saul and David is a nice addition though as ever with HDTT their aim by and large to replicate the original LP experience produces a short total playing time.

The reel-to-reel tape from which this was taken must have been in good stead not to mention the careful processing by HDTT in which they take justifiable pride. The results are very satisfying. The respectable liner notes are uncredited but are printed in too small a font and inexplicably in olive green on a light olive ground. This renders reading very difficult indeed. However as music-making this is an empowered recording worth the attention of true Nielsen fans.

Rob Barnett

Masterwork Index: Nielsen symphonies

An empowered recording worth the attention of true Nielsen fans.