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Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphony No. 2 The Four Temperaments (1901-02) [31:28]
Little Suite for Strings Op. 1 FS6 (1888) [14:42]
Serenata in Vano (1914) [8:18]
Tivoli Symphony Orchestra/Carl von Garaguly
Hilmer Nielsen (horn): Jörn Nilsson (bassoon): H C Sĝrensen (horn): Asger Lund Christiansen (cello): Johan Poulsen (double bass)
rec. early 1960s

Two Hungarian violinists made exceptional contributions to the propagation of the music of Carl Nielsen. One was his son-in-law Emil Telmányi and the other was Carl von Garaguly. Both studied with Hubay in Budapest. Telmányi recorded much of Nielsen’s music for violin including the early string quartet with his family ensemble whereas Garaguly, who had been assistant deputy leader of the Berlin Philharmonic during the First World War at the ridiculously young age of seventeen and subsequently led the Gothenburg Symphony, later turned to conducting. It’s in that capacity that we meet him in his early 1960s LP of the Second Symphony.

Obviously, he was hardly the first to have recorded the symphony. Those great names Jensen and Grĝndahl are long associated with this symphony, and others in the canon – Jensen in particular has always been laden with the mantle of inheritor of the holy writ, as he played under Nielsen in the Tivoli Orchestra and was supposed to have had an acute recall of Nielsen’s specific tempi. It was Jensen indeed who made the first studio recording of the work many years before Garaguly’s recording with the famed Tivoli orchestra for Vox-Turnabout whose British discs were, I believe, pressed by Decca.

Garaguly is a memorable interpreter of the symphony. He directs with trenchant authority characterising each moment vividly. The recording isn’t the most upholstered for the time, its warmness imperiled by a suggestion of stridency but that barely impedes the forceful vibrancy of the direction and playing – a few ensemble slips are a price very well worth paying. Those eager to whip out a stopwatch and construct agonizingly tedious tables of movement tempi might like to know that Jensen takes the faster tempo in the first and third movements, they’re neck and neck in the scherzo and Garaguly drives a touch harder in the finale. What’s far more important is his sense of consistency, his vision of the work from first to last. He employs especially persuasive rubati in the scherzo – they sound utterly natural – and balances choirs with care. The climaxes in the slow movement are finely graded, the brass has chorale nobility, and he unleashes a seismic sense of vitality in the finale where once again his use of rubati is notable. It’s this that distinguishes him from a later exponent such as Morton Gould in Chicago who was equally fast in this movement but far less knowing with the result that the music feels breathless. From 4:25 in the finale there are some clicks on the LP used and they go on for thirty seconds or so. Annoying but not destructive. (these are being amended) Like Grĝndahl, Jensen, Tuxen and – as a fellow reviewer here reminded me recently – Tor Mann, Garaguly approached the symphonies with an adaptable sense of their energy and strangeness. It’s to our lasting advantage that this early generation of Nielsen symphonic interpreters was allowed to record at least part of that symphonic repertoire (Mann recorded the whole cycle).

Coupled with this is the Little Suite for Strings which is played and directed with great charm. Garaguly’s reading reminds me of that of John Frandsen with the Royal Danish forces; they both have a similar sense of unforced generosity. Neither conductor overplays this lighter element of Nielsen’s compositional output. Modesty and elegance are alike held in balance in both performances. The final work is a chamber piece, the whimsical and ingenious Serenata in Vano. Maestro’s track listing truncates this to one movement and underestimates its running time, but the work is heard complete. This conversational piece features some of the best contemporary wind players as well as a leading cellist in the shape of Asger Lund Christiansen and the top-flight, droll double bass playing of Johan Poulsen.

This is a good restoration.

Jonathan Woolf

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