Carl Nielsen: Symfonier 5 og 6
16 February 2015
David FanningThe concluding volume of alan Gilbert's Nielsen cycle fully matches up to its predecessors.
In fact, taking the first movements alone, it arguably surpasses them. Gilbert hits on an ideal tempo for the aparthetic yet vaguely menacing opening of the Fifth Symphony (Tempo giusto
the composer marks it, not entirely helpfully); and from here, through the various phases of anguish, self-assertion and earth-shattering conflict, he and his players never lose the dramatic thread. The sidedrumming is among the best on disc. In the Sinfonia semplice
- psychologically far more challenging to interpret, of course - the varied moods are once again both sharply delineated and satisfyingly integrated. Only the very finest rivals, such as those listed below, show what further horizons can open up, given, for example, a more flamboyant clarinet in the Fifth or weightier strings in the Sixth. More serious problems emerge with the later movements.
Gilbert is a notch or two under the metronome mark for the Allegro
of the Fifth, as though taking a safety-first approach in view of the mayhem to come, and the following fugato, while not exactly tame, is still by no means as scary as it should be. Similarly, the 'Humoresque' in the Sixth may be one of the shapelier accounts on disc but that comes at a cost to its sardonic edge, while the variations finale feels too sane for its carnivalesque craziness to have maximum impact. In sum, this is a reliable and intermittently distinguished modern set of the Nielsen symphonies,
to rank alongside the likes of Schønwandt. If the fates allow, I can imagine conductor and orchestra revisiting the repertoire in 10 or 20 years' time, with a myriad of small adjustments and overall increased confidence, and giving us something to rival the very best of Nielsen recordings.