November 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Curio Corner

If Only They Had Written for Films – Carl Nielsen (1865-1931).


Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
Symphony No.1. Symphony No.2 'The Four Temperaments'. Symphony No.3 'Sinfonia espansiva'. Maskarade Overture. Aladdin Suite.
 San Francisco Symphony conducted by Herbert Blomstedt
  DECCA Double Decca 4609852 [67:55]

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
Symphony No. 4 'The Inextinguishable'; Symphony No. 5
 The Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Schønwandt
  Dacapo 8.224156 [75:56]

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
Symphony No. 3 'Espansiva'; Clarinet Concerto; Overture: Maskerade
 The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Myung-Whun Chung
  BIS-CD 321 [67:45]
  Amazon UK 

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)
Opera: Maskerade
 Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir conducted by John Frandsen
  Unicorn-Kanchana DKC9073-4 (2CDs)

Back in the 1960s, I was once so impressed by some introductory music for a TV drama series starring Donald Wolfit and Alan Badel, that I wrote in to find out what it was. I discovered it was from Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 3 'Sinfonia espansiva'. Nielsen's music is very personal, highly individual and very dramatic and emotional. Tragically for us, and like so many other major 20th century composers, his life drew to a close in 1931 just as the 'talkies' were taking off.

The Danish composer Carl Nielsen was prolific in almost all genres: two operas, six symphonies, three solo concertos, chamber music, piano and organ music and a large number of songs as well as occasional music.

Despite being anti-Late Romantic his music has melody but it also has telling and not unattractive dissonances. It has a Brahmsian classicism and embraces features of European modernism. Nielsen was often vague about the meaning of his music and he was loathe to reveal a programme but much of the material for his symphonies is about life: its joys and turbulence. The symphonies provide an agreeable introduction to his music. The Second Symphony has the clearest meaning. It is explicitly mood music describing four human temperaments: Choleric; Sanguine; Melancholic; and Phlegmatic. The Third Symphony I have already mentioned and is probably the most tuneful and accessible of all the Nielsen symphonies. The Fourth Symphony is about the inextinguishable, elementary will to life. It is highly dramatic and is memorable for a dual between two sets of timpani in the final movement. The snare drum, is strongly featured in the Fifth Symphony. A fine new recording of both the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies is available from dacapo in a distinguished series of all the Nielsen symphonies recorded by the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Schønwandt. Adventurous listeners might want to explore the comically quirky and intensely introspective Clarinet Concerto again with an important snare drum contribution is on BIS coupled with a wildly exuberant Maskerade Overture and the Sinfonia espansiva. The whole of Nielsen's comic opera, Maskerade which has gained the status of a Danish national opera, can be heard on the recommended Unicornp-Kanchana recording listed here. It is a comic exposure of social morés, rigorous conventions and riotous behaviour and it brims with good humour and invention. It has the touch of a 'modern Mozart'

Ian Lace

Next Month Debussy

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