Carl Nielsen: Symfonier 5 og 6
17 June 2015
James H. NorthThe Sixth Symphony is anything but semplice
. Even the comparatively straightforward opening movement has moments that may be tragic, comedic, ironical, or just Tempo giusto. Much as I treasure fine orchestral playing, successful performances are those that dare the most. Douglas Bostock’s Liverpool Philharmonic cannot match the panache of Gilbert’s New Yorkers, but his sprightly, often joyous freedom enlivens the music. Gilbert seems to be playing it safe, letting his orchestra’s chops carry the performance. There is beauty and power aplenty, but the movement remains a blank slate, lacking the quirky spirit that Bostock finds. The comparison obtains in the clearly farcical Humoresque. Once again the New Yorkers are brilliant—the wailing brass are hysterical—but Bostock’s lighter touch prevails. The Dacapo performance comes into its own in the Adagio
, where the New York strings are deep and pure, the woodwind solos beyond compare. Gilbert shakes off the shackles and lets loose in the final theme and variations, where his woodwind stars continue to percolate, beginning with the lengthy bassoon solo, exquisitely rendered by Judith LeClair. All in all, a fine reading despite its slow start.The recorded sound is marvelous
. The CD has terrific impact; the SACD is especially effective in quiet passages among the winds—a bassoon growls even at pp—and it pinpoints Nielsen’s subtly crisscrossing harmonies in a way that Sony’s Bernstein and Ormandy issues (or Bostock’s) cannot. Surround sound is luscious without sacrificing either detail or impact. Although Gilbert cannot quite match Bernstein’s Fifth, I have no hesitation recommending this disc and all of Gilbert’s Nielsen. Dacapo had planned to issue a Nielsen box with the concertos as well as the symphonies; I don’t know where the overtures were meant to fit— Maskarade was on this concert. But the Philharmonic’s 2015/16 brochure includes no Nielsen, and Gilbert has announced his retirement in 2017, so don’t wait for that fast-fading possibility.