Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphony No 5, Op 50, FS97 (1921-1922) [33:54]
Symphony No 6, FS116, “Sinfonia semplice” (1924-1925) [32:26]
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. May 1991 (5) and March 1992 (6), Konserthuset, Gothenburg
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 439 777-2 [66:30]
Acquiring this Presto re-release of Neeme Järvi’s Nielsen would have been an exercise in nostalgia, but his is a cycle I have to admit knowing less well than some others that will be receiving a mention as we go along. Neeme Järvi’s complete Nielsen symphonies have been available on Deutsche Grammophon’s ‘Trio’ budget box set series and can still be found at a reasonable price. Even at Presto’s own reasonable prices it would seem daft to seek out just this single disc release, but here we go...
Neeme Järvi’s conducting is good here, and the recording standard is also high. You might be wondering about his versions of these works on the BIS label, and this set is also a decent enough one with plenty of extras. The Fifth Symphony from this set was however conducted by Myung-Whun Chung, so I haven’t dragged it out for particular attention. I would prefer to mention complete sets only where their price is favourable when compared to this single disc, and with regard to the Fifth Symphony I would guide you towards Ole Schmidt’s complete set on the Regis label (review), formerly on Unicorn-Kanchana, a cycle that every Nielsen fan should own. Järvi is good, with only a few slight wobbly moments of ensemble, but with Schmidt the battle between the side-drum and the rest of the orchestra is more hard-won, the balance giving that instrument just a bit too much presence in the Deutsche Grammophon version. I have to admit that the Schmidt recording is one of very few anywhere guaranteed to bring a tear to my eye at certain moments every time so subjective bias is rampant, but to my ears this is a version that is very hard to beat. Still, the Gothenburg brass are in good form on this recording, and the symphony’s close is triumphantly convincing. It’s all good stuff, but these days we can do better.
The coupling of Nielsen’s Fifth and Sixth symphonies on one disc is by no means unheard of, but isn’t that common either. The Dacapo label put them together for Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, but Dan Morgan was unconvinced (review) and, after some initial excitement I haven’t played these Dacapo recordings very often. Neeme Järvi is quite exciting in the Sixth Symphony, by no means lingering in terms of tempi and mostly getting the best out of the winds and brass. He is let down here and there by some scrappy moments from the Gothenburg strings, and there are some passages where you feel everyone is ‘getting through’ rather than having a clear idea about where they are actually going. Sakari Oramo with the Stockholm Symphony Orchestra on the BIS label (review) is much better in this work, and if price is no object and you decide to go all out for a complete Nielsen symphonic cycle then Oramo is one of if not the best on the market at the moment. It is to be hoped that BIS will turn this set into a more economical box in the near future, but if these separate discs seem a bit too pricey then you will also do very well with Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra on the Decca label, whose cycle is now also available at relatively low cost.
With better performances around and better value complete sets also worth seeking out the revival of this particular disc does seem a bit redundant. Way back in the 90s it would have been desirable enough and it’s still by no means an awful recording. 30 years is a long time in the world of Nielsen symphonic recordings however, and when it comes to water passing under bridges this one is now more than somewhat submerged.