Reviews

GHCD 2340 – Carl Nielsen (1857-1931) – Symphony No.3, op. 27 & No.5, Op.50

Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Frandsen, Ruth Güldbaek – soprano, Erik Sjoberg – baritone

To the CD in our Shop


American Record Guide July / August 2009

The Dutton Label has been reviving the “first generation” of recordings of Nielsen’s music by the Danish Radio Orchestra in the 1940s and 1950s. The Violin Concerto (with Emil Telmanyi) and the Saga Dream under Egisto Tango, plus the Clarinet Concerto, (with Louis Cahuzac) under Frandsen, have appeared an 9744. The Flute Concerto (with Holger Gilbert­Jespersen) and Maskarade excerpts under Jensen, plus the Clarinet Concerto (with Ib Erikson) under Mogens Wöldike are an 2505. On 2502 are the First and Fifth Symphonies under Jensen, plus the Helios Overture under Eric Tuxen. In 1207 are the Third and Fifth Symphonies plus the Saul and David Act II Prelude, all under Tuxen. (None of these have been reviewed save the all-Tuxen disc: S/O 2000, p 273.)

These were recordings I grew up an in my student days. They represent the transmitted experience of conductors (especially Jensen and Wöldike) who honed their interpretations from personal contact with Nielsen. Their recordings are documents of basic importance; and, in Dutton’s skilled remastering, the sound still holds up remarkably well, capturing the special polish and mellowness of the Copenhagen woodwinds. Jensen’s Sixth Symphony was recorded in 1952 for the Norwegian Tono label (released here briefly by Mercury). As the first recording of this thorny work, and by a Nielsen authority, it remains an impressive exploration of the score-despite Jensen’s cut of much of the excruciatingly difficult cadenza for unison violins near the end of the finale-presumably out of mercy for his players. Dutton’s is not the first CD revival of this: it appeared previously in Danacord’s series of historic Nielsen reissues (351, 3CD). This 1955 recording of the Third Symphony under Frandsen was made by Philips and issued here on Epic. I remembered it as a rather diffident interpretation, soon swept aside by Bernstein’s sensational Copenhagen recording of 1965. Frandsen made relatively few recordings, but was the established workhorse conductor for many years at the Royal Opera House. Listening after many years to his recording of this work, I find more to enjoy than I remembered, complete with one of the best-balanced placements of the two singers.

An even older relic here is represented by two short orchestral pieces from Nielsen’s music for the play Moderen, recorded (in rather dim sound) in 1946 under Emil Reesen, respected as both a conductor and a composer. With copyrights expired on all these old recordings, more companies are weighing in with reissues. The one from the Swiss Guild label gives us a curious combination. No. 3 here is exactly the same 1955 Philips recording under Frandsen as in the Dutton release. I find Peter Reynolds’s remastering a bit less lean than Michael Dutton’s, with slightly more boomy bass.

But sonic concerns increase with the Tuxen Fifth. Tuxen had a particular identification with this work: he got into trouble because of his tinkerings with orchestral details that he incorporated, without acknowledgement, into the edition of the score he prepared for publi­cation. He made three recordings of it. The studio session from 1946 for HMV is the one included in Dutton 1207. The latest of the three is a concert performance in Paris in April 1955, issued by Danacord. In between came a concert performance of 1950, and that is the one offered by Guild. It is the least listenable of the three in sound. It took place at the Edinburgh Festival and caused a sensation and launched a Nielsen craze in Great Britain. I don’t recall encountering this historic recording before.

Listeners who have come to appreciate Nielsen’s music through stereo recordings would do well to make contact with these pioneer recordings for their special insights and the contact what was still left of the composer’s world in the second decade after his death.


CRC Spring 2009

Until it appeared unexpectedly in 2004 from Decca/Universal via the Retrospective Recordings label ( RET043) John Frandsen’s 1955 recording of Nielsen’s Espansiva Symphony was in danger of being forgotten except by Nielsen enthusirits with long memories who had hung on to their original Philips ten-inch LP ( NBR6034). Since Frandsen is a distant figure now it was presumably thought necessary to couple him advantageously (with Eduard van Beinum conducting Ravel), though mang collectors might haue wished for more Danish music from Frandsen: there was certainly sufficient available at that period from Philips sources.

Now, equally unexpectedly, two more transfers of Frandsen’s account of the Symphony appear simultaneously, this time muck more suitably coupled. In fact Guild offers the first issue an CD of Erik Tuxen’s performance of the Fifth Symphony, while Thomas Jensen’s Sixth is only available in Danacord’s three-disc Set of mainly radio performances of all the symphonies. Tuxen’s Fifth is the live performance at the 1950 Edinburgh Festival widely credited with kick-starting the appreciation of Nielsen’s music in the UK and elsewhere, so it is of documentary importance. Predictably, allowances have to be made for the sound, which hardly does justice to a reading alight with trail-blazing spirit. Guild is coy about its source for this performance (it did once appear on a Danacord LP), but even through the sub-fusc sound and occasional drop­out the outlines are still reasonably clear.

Guild states that its Espansiva comes from NBR6034, and indeed the transfer successfully mirrors the sound of that LP. The Dutton issue is taken from the original tapes and is much more wide-ranging and detailed: the venue is thought not to be Danish Radio’s fine concert hall familiar from other DSRSO discs but, wherever it was, Michael Dutton has succeeded in making its ambient sound warmer without clouding the detail; it is now impressively open and free, conveying a better impression of Frandsen’s fine performance of this life-enhancing symphony, well in a line from his distinguished predecessors. Nielsen lovers will find the Guild disc serviceable, though I suspect they will have much more fun with Dutton’s, which has been most carefully done: its impact is extraordinary for a 50-year old recording. There is little to choose between the two versions now available of Thomas Jensen’s Sixth since both are excellent: Danacord’s is slightly more mellow, while Dutton brings up in impressive clarity of detail what is generally regarded as one of the greatest performances of this elusive work ever to reach disc. Dutton’s two interesting excerpts of incidental music recorded in 1946 feature Emil Reesen, one of the DSRSO’s founding conductors in 1925; even heard briefly, he was quite obviously another Nielsen natural.
Lyndon Jenkins

Audiophile Audition Thursday January 22 2009

The Third Symphony (rec. 3-5 March 1955) comes from a fruitful and happy period in the composer’s life, and the music reflects an exuberance and exhilaration of the outdoors, a rhythmic fancy that often finds itself compared to the Seventh Symphony of Beethoven. The opening movement wends its athletic way between modes, often reminding one of Shostakovich, but here qualified by angular, waltz figures and  vigorous thrusts from strings, brass, and tympani that exert a martial, inflamed spirit. The Andante pastorale asks the two vocal soli to sit among the orchestral players, their voices in wordless melisma as rarified instruments suggestive of a hidden, bucolic world far away from the concerns of daily civilization. The third movement tests the distinction between Allegretto and Scherzo, a dark, powerful dance that often hints at Mahler’s especial sarcasm, mystery, and contrapuntal acerbity. The last movement, Allegro, presents us a martial, confident tune that contains folk elements, not so far from an Elgar sensibility, but colored by Nielsen’s wry and massive textures. Conductor John Frandsen (1918-1996) adjusts Nielsen’s striking and shifting temperaments with fine-tuned skill, pacing the individual lines of melody and rhythmic ostinati with convincing units of phrase, creating an sense of inevitability to the colossal, assertive peroration that ends this often blazing piece of orchestral virtuosity.

Musicologist and commentator Deryck Cooke once declared Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony the greatest such score of the 20th Century; whether this hyperbole works or not, the piece demands a certain concession to genius, given its scale and vibrancy of colorful imagination under Tuxen (1902-1957). The long, weaving harmonies and moody impulses in the bass of the first movement pass through Bartok and Shostakovich easily; then, the various tympanic and snare drum choirs enter and mark a new direction in music altogether. The wind choir of the Danish State Radio Symphony proves itself the equal of any ensemble in the pantheon of orchestral excellence. Swirling winds and angry snare riffs converge, while the strings drive forward a theme not so far divorced from Ravel’s Bolero. The orchestral colors and effects become more seemingly random; and the music’s dark, dirge-like, mellifluous arioso tires to offer some consolation in the midst of crisis. Eventually, Nielsen combines the two impulses and thus defines the alternately poignant and heroic contradictions of his times. The second section combines scherzo, intermezzo and finale, the first of these a perpetual mobile in angry, irregular accents, haunted and driven by inner demons. The inertia finally dissipates–or entropy sets in–and then light strings begin a fugato of impish character that the bassoon, clarinet and tympani assume, the agogics once more becoming lunatic, a kind of Danish hexentanz. Another quiet episode ensues, led by high strings, diviso; Nielsen uses counterpoint to subdue the chaos. So many mecurial, inner tempests in this composer’s soul, including his own version of rapture! Nielsen’s lets his trumpets speak, and another whirlwind carries to the extended coda, punctuated by mocking accents in winds and brass. The world threatens to explode, as had the politics from which this severe, apocalyptic piece was born. A grateful 1950 audience applauds the musical dynamo in the form of Erik Tuxen and his thoroughly prepared Danish players.
Gary Lemco