Carl Nielsen: Symfonier 5 og 6
26 February 2015
Infodad.comSometimes a conductor can make an imprint on an orchestra
without necessarily making one on particular pieces of music. That is the case with Alan Gilbert’s Nielsen cycle with the New York Philharmonic. The orchestra itself has not sounded this good since the Bernstein era: Gilbert clearly knows how to extract the maximum warmth, precision and sectional balance from an orchestra that has often been rather ragged and unruly under a variety of conductors – to the detriment of music and audiences alike. However, Gilbert’s readings of Nielsen’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies
, which complete his cycle for Dacapo, suffer from the same malaise as his performances of the other symphonies. He tends to make the works too bland, smoothing their sharp edges and generally taming their frequently outré orchestrations, rhythms and harmonies (even Nielsen’s First, his most-straightforward symphony, is harmonically odd, never deciding which of two keys it is in). Thus, in the Fifth, where the timpani player is at one point famously instructed to play ad libitum
and try to disrupt the rest of the orchestra, Gilbert keeps things under such tight control that this aleatoric, highly provocative section becomes merely noisy. That was not Nielsen’s idea at all. As for Symphony No. 6, which Nielsen called “Sinfonia semplice” with tongue firmly in cheek, this is a genuinely bizarre work, as strange in its way as much of Ives’ music was in its. Deliberately crass, overdone, silly, mocking, sarcastic and at times just plain weird, Nielsen’s Sixth invites a conductor to pull out all the stops and really show what he or she can get an orchestra to do. Gilbert may be up to the challenge, but if so, he chooses not to rise to it: this Nielsen Sixth is very mild indeed, its jagged edges smoothed to such a degree that even the very end (when the bassoons keep playing after everything is finished, as if the conductor failed to cue them to stop) sounds intentional. It is
intentional, of course: Nielsen knew exactly what he was doing. But here as with the timpani in Symphony No. 5, what the composer wanted was a kind of chaos within an overall atmosphere of control – control that eventually asserts itself in the Fifth but that falls apart in the Sixth. Ironically, Gilbert’s skill at controlling the New York Philharmonic here stands in the way of delivering fully satisfying performances – although this SACD still gets a (+++) rating in recognition of the very fine playing of the ensemble and the excellent sound with which the disc is endowed.