Carl Nielsen – Recommended Readings

Symphonies

Vitality is the key to any Nielsen performance, and luckily, there are

a number of performances of the symphonies that possess it. One of

the two reasons I fell in love with music was Jean Martinon’s record-
ing of Carl Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony, performed by the Chicago

Symphony Orchestra (the other was Leonard Bernstein’s performance

of Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony). After an unconscionable absence, this

recording has finally been remastered and rereleased by RCA Red Seal

at midprice. Here is Nielsen’s visionary music in its greatest perfor-
mance that easily earns the work’s subtitle: Inextinguishable. This irre-

[HA4] placeable CD is a mandatory acquisition. It is paired with[HA4] Marti-
non’s equally fine performance of the Helios Overture and with Morton

1186 Gould’s electrifying performance of the Second Symphony.

Symphony no. 4, Helios Overture, Martinon, Chicago Symphony Or-

1187 chestra, RCA Red Seal 76237

The vintage traversal of all six symphonies from the late-1980s, long a

popular favorite, is from veteran Nielsen conductor Herbert Blom-
stedt and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra on two inexpen-

1188 sive Decca Double releases.

Symphonies nos. 1–3, Blomstedt, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra,

1189 Decca 460 985

274 The Composers

Symphonies no 4–6, Blomstedt, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

1190 Symphony, Decca 460 988

Before his death in 2012, Sir Colin Davis had worked his way through

all six symphonies for the LSO Live label. I was present at Barbican

for the Fifth Symphony at that time, and it was superb. What makes it

even more indispensable on CD is that it is paired with a live recording

of the Fourth Symphony. As I mentioned, the standard was set by Jean

Martinon and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1966. However, it

now has a strong runner-up. Martinon set a blazing pace in the Fourth

by playing it in half an hour. Davis is only two minutes slower in his

fierce, urgent account. Of course, it is not all about speed. It is about

capturing the elemental force and passion that makes life Inextinguish-
able. This Davis and his great orchestra have done, which makes this

pairing of symphonies especially attractive to any lover of Nielsen’s

1191 music.

1192 Symphonies nos. 4 & 5, LSO Live SACD 0694

1193 Symphonies nos. 1 & 6, LSO Live SACD 0715

<> Now rereleased on budget Naxos, Michael Schonwandt’s recordings

of all the symphonies with the Danish National Radio Symphony Or-

<> chestra (originally on DaCapo) have a grandeur and warmth of sound

that make them nearly irresistible, marred only by some slow tempos

in the Fourth, where he takes almost seven minutes longer than Mar-
tinon, and in the Fifth, but just when you think he may lack fire in

1194 the belly, he sparks to life.

Symphony no. 2, The Four Temperaments; Symphony, no. 3, Sinfonia

1195 espansiva, Naxos 8.570738

1196 Symphonies nos. 1 & 6, Sinfonia semplice, Naxos 8.570737

1198 Symphonies nos. 4 & 5, Naxos 8.570739

Violin Concerto, Clarinet Concerto, and Flute Concerto, Various

soloists, Bournemouth Symphony Orchesra, Kees Bakels (conduc-

1199 tor), Naxos 8.554189

1200 Orchestral Music

Carl Nielsen: Music Is Life 275

The Dacapo release of Carl Nielsen’s orchestral music, with Dan-
ish National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard,

<> came in only a few votes shy of winning the Gramophone’s orchestral

CD of the year award in 2007. I have rarely heard more enlivening

performances of the indispensable Helios Overture, Maskarade Overture,

Pan and Syrinx, Pastoral Scene for Orchestra, or the other works included

here. You should have all of his six symphonies, but you should have

1201 this, too.

Helios Overture, Maskarade Overture, Pan and Syrinx, Pastoral Scene for

1202 Orchestra, Dacapo 6.220518

<> Nielsen, wrote music, including songs and choruses, for the 1918 pro-
duction of the play Aladdin. Chandos Classics has reissued its 1993

recording ofthe complete score (most recordings only offer a 20-minute

suite), with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, under Gennady

Rozhdestvensky. It is a wonderfully fun, highly imaginative romp, with

1203 a recording perspective that has you in a front row orchestra seat.

1204 Aladdin, Chandos Classics 10498

1205 Chamber and Piano Music

Concertos, Wind Music, Chamber Music Wind Quintet (with other

Finnish wind music), Wind Quintet of the Danish National Radio

1206 Symphony Orchestra, Dacapo 8.224151

String Quartets Nos. 1–4, Oslo String Quartet, Naxos 8.553908 &

1207 8.553907

1208 Opera

Maskarade is a marvelous musical soufflé, depicting the contest be-
tween convention and nature, which takes place in and is made possi-
ble by a highly artificial setting of the masked ball. The contest is be-
tween romantic love and contractual marriage, between old and new,

and between generations. This is played out by various couples: the

father and mother, the son and daughter, the servant and girlfriend, et

cetera, each of whom illustrates an aspect of the problem of nature and

convention as it relates to the heart. There are foibles aplenty. At the

276 The Composers

end, the tension between the two is resolved when the couple resisting

an arranged marriage discovers that the prospective partner is, in fact,

the secret lover from the masked ball. Of course, this is all too neat in

dramatic terms, but this is, after all, a comedy—one so well done that

1209 it has become Denmark’s national opera.

Maskarade, Various soloists and the Danish National Radio Symphony

1210 Orchestra and Choir, conducted by Ulf Schirmer, Decca 460227

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