Carl Nielsen: Symphonies 2 and 3
28 January 2013
This recording has already been reviewed fulsomely on these pages by Jack Lawson, and Oleg Ledeniov made it one of his 2012 Recordings of the Year. Had I been a bit quicker off the mark with this review I might have done the same, as I concur with all of the praise given to these performances from numerous quarters.
Nielsen’s symphonies have been a staple of my orchestral listening since the late great Robert Simpson broadcast a revelatory series on BBC Radio 3 way back in the 1980s. There were relatively few recordings around then, but a few cycles have remained favourites for one reason or another. Without boring everyone beyond belief, I can suggest your trying Ole Schmidt’s complete set on Regis (see review), formerly on Unicorn, the Fifth Symphony from which never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Then there is the superbly recorded and reliably stylish Herbert Blomstedt (see review) which has been high on the list for many years. Whatever your Nielsen history, you will have your own opinions, but this recording from Alan Gilbert with the New Your Philharmonic seems to press some universal button of wild acclaim which sweeps the bulk of the competition into a cocked hat.
The pacing of each movement is done superbly well in these performances. Gilbert doesn’t go for thrill-seeking speed, and tumult and drama are held in check as often as they are gloriously unleashed. Crucial moments such as the vocal contributions in the Andante pastorale of the Symphony No. 3 are done very well indeed, and these passages of sheer beauty are all the more affecting for that ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ sense of power delivered by previous Allegro espansivo, to provide just one example. Righteous praise has been heaped on the brass in these performances, but equal acclaim is deserved for the strings, who have both weight and passion in the sound as well as all of the sheen and refinement you could wish. In the end, it is Nielsen’s inspiring themes which win, for while it is the orchestra which is such an admirable vehicle, it is marvellously heroic material such as the third symphony’s Finale and the openings of both works which make you want to stand up and fly through the room for the sheer joy of it all.
You can’t have the light without the dark, and Nielsen’s more sombre moods, such as the Andante malincolico third movement of the Symphony No. 2 plumb depths of which some recordings can only dream. Gilbert draws the tempo out here a little more than most, to the point you feel he might have gone too far when the wind solos start. As the music unfolds its strength takes hold overwhelmingly, and you can’t imagine wanting to hear it any other way by the end.
With cracking SACD sound, a live ‘vibe’ to the performances, the superb Avery Fisher Hall acoustic and a band of some of the best players in the world at the very top of their game this is a disc to have and to hold from this day forth etc. If you have yet to experience Nielsen’s symphonies then this a terrific place to start a relationship which will last and enrich for a lifetime.