Carl Nielsen: Symfonier 5 og 6
17 February 2015
Graham WilliamsThe final volume in Alan Gilbert's traversal of the six Nielsen Symphonies, recorded in concert with the New York Philharmonic for the Dacapo label, arrives in good time for the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth (9th June 1865), and in every respect it matches the high standard already set by the two previous releases.
This SACD couples the composer's two final symphonies – the 5th of 1922 and the 6th 'Sinfonia semplice' completed in 1925. According to Alan Gilbert the NYPO has not performed the 5th Symphony for over ten years (perhaps the shadow of Leonard Bernstein's celebrated 1962 recording has played a part in this) and has never performed the latter. This may be one of the many reasons why Gilbert's recordings of these two works are so convincing, as his orchestra seems fired both by the fresh challenges posed by this relatively unfamiliar music and their Music Director's obvious enthusiasm for it.
The performance of the two-movement 5th Symphony given here certainly does not disappoint.
With his fairly relaxed tempo and rather chilly sounding oscillating violas Gilbert effectively invokes the sense of bleak stillness at the start. The eventual entry of the percussion, here vividly etched by the clean recording, brings more forward momentum until the Adagio section of this movement arrives. Gilbert and his players then luxuriate in Nielsen's richly melodic contrapuntal writing before the forces of chaos return with the celebrated snare-drum cadenza that here really does attempt to impede the progress of the music unlike those on so many other recorded versions.The second movement opens powerfully, and though Gilbert does not press forward as fiercely as some might like, he does convey the eventual triumph over conflict with conviction – thanks to the superlative orchestral playing that has been a constant feature of this cycle.
Nielsen's 6th Symphony is a problematic work. Written at a time when the composer was disillusioned and already ailing from the heart disease that would eventually kill him, it seems to turn what is usually expected from a symphony on its head. Gilbert gives a compelling account of this disturbing and enigmatic work, the NYPO revelling in the bizarre modernisms of the 'Humoresque' (second movement) and conveying both the bitter pathos and forced gaiety found elsewhere in this score with fierce commitment.
The multi-channel recording made in the DXD format 352.8kHz / 24 bit is, as with the earlier issues in this cycle, very clean, though perhaps a touch lacking in warmth. But the the clarity it provides, especially to Nielsen's extensive percussion writing, could hardly be improved upon.
A most recommendable conclusion to a fine Nielsen Symphony cycle.