Gilbert’s Powerful Nielsen Cycle Continues
29 September 2014
These are strong, exciting performances of symphonies that demand the sort of bold muscularity in their execution that these artists offer. In Alan Gilbert’s hands the First Symphony sounds extremely confident and wholly mature. It starts with a bang and the tension in the first movement never lets up. The playing of the New York Philharmonic throughout is fresh and unaffected, full of spirit and drive. Even the Andante flows purposefully forward, and contrasts nicely with the Allegro comodo that does duty for a scherzo–with its harmonic kinks so personal to Nielsen. The finale has the same “pedal to the metal” drive as the opening, bringing the performance to a rousing conclusion.
The performance of the “Inextinguishable” Fourth Symphony also features some really impressive energy and power. In the first movement the brass play with a precision and clarity that few other versions can match, and in the finale the dueling timpani compete with real bravura. The slow movement here reminds me of Shostakovich in its bleak intensity, and my only quibble with Gilbert’s interpretation concerns the symphony’s coda where, like most of his colleagues, Gilbert broadens the pace in the closing bars when Nielsen clearly wants to drive the music home in tempo. Gilbert does pull it off: with an orchestra that has the weight and strength of the New York Philharmonic the effect is convincing, but Gibson (on Chandos) remains unmatched here.
Dacapo’s engineering, as with the previous release in this series, is natural and very present. The woodwinds feel just slightly recessed in more fully scored sections, but I can attest that the music really does sound like this in actual performance with a large orchestra, and certainly nothing gets lost. More importantly, the engineers have captured the impression of a live performance, caught on the wing, and the audience is mercifully quiet. This is a very impressive release.