Nielsen: Concertos (Live)
14 September 2015
The Arts Desk
Graham RicksonNielsen’s Violin Concerto opens with a crash and a growling pedal note
. It’s an unlikely opening to one of the most genial concertos in the repertoire. Sibelius’s concerto is full of chilly glitter, but Nielsen offers his listeners a friendly hug. Everything that’s great about this composer’s music is here. The tunes are good. Structurally it’s interesting. Tempi are predominantly slow, though the music is packed with incident. And what an ending—the most laid-back, unassuming close imaginable. It gets an excellent performance from Nikolaj Znaider. Rarely has such an expansive piece felt so compact and finely-wrought, Znaider never letting Nielsen’s stream of ideas ramble. The cadenzas are electrifying, but he knows when to give us unadorned simplicity: the Allegretto Scherzando’s lolloping theme is delicious. He’s handsomely supported by Alan Gilbert’s New York Philharmonic, the live recording well balanced.The two wind concertos are played by orchestral principals
. Both are masterpieces, and it’s a source of perennial regret that Nielsen’s death prevented him writing works for the remaining members of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet. Flautist Robert Langevin displays impressive agility in the delectable Flute Concerto, though he’s almost upstaged by the orchestral support; every timpani rumble and bass trombone blast perfectly judged. Uniquely uplifting, its positivity contrasts with the darker clarinet work. Anthony McGill captures the music’s furious intensity to perfection, never forgetting the need to relax in those fleeting moments of calm. In Nielsen’s words, the instrument can be “as mild as balm and as shrill as a tramcar on poorly greased rails.” The closing seconds are extraordinary: parched, desolate but oddly luminous. A fabulous disc, and essential listening if you’ve enjoyed Gilbert’s cycle of the symphonies.