Nielsen: Symphonies 1 & 4
09 October 2014
If Nielsen seemed 'like a child playing with dynamite', according to the press at the 1916 Danish world premiere of his ‘Inextinguishable’ Symphony, then Alan Gilbert is almost too sensible an adult - not willing to let it go off until the end, which it does with a rush, one of two accelerating sections in these performances which are a little too swift for their own good.
Don’t get me wrong: the New York Philharmonic playing is mostly magnificent, its horns especially impressive in third movements - silky-soft in the coda of the First Symphony’s semi-scherzo and full-throated in the climactic build of the Fourth’s Poco adagio - and its first clarinettist as subtle as can be very early on in both symphonies.
If you’re hearing these symphonies for the first time, too, you won’t fail to be impressed at Gilbert’s rugged pacing. But there can be still more, as one hears among several top interpreters from Leonard Bernstein onwards, a rather more temperamental predecessor at the NYPO. The quieter moments and the slow burns work best, and upping the star rating from three to four is the full, natural sound - at least until the finale of the ‘Inextinguishable’, where we want to hear those timpani dialoguing left and right instead of close to one another. But Gilbert should have thought of that. It was rather timid, too, to launch with the hit Symphony No. 4 and not with the rough and ready First - the Fourth would have exploded much more convincingly after it.