Great, or compelling Nielsen conductors on Record.

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Great, or compelling Nielsen conductors on Record.

Now that Carl Nielsen is getting more of the attention he rightly and richly deserves (albeit gradually), it will be interesting to examine the maestros who effectively (or compellingly) gave us glimpses (or pictures) of Nielsen the composer and what he did in the development of Danish music (and beyond Denmark, for he had his own say on progressive tonality which impacted on the art, and perhaps, the science of composition - Look at Robert Simpson the composer and scholar for instance). 

Clearly Erik Tuxen, Thomas Jensen, and Launy Grøndahl were the earliest conductors to record Nielsen's music, but in terms of exposing the music to the wider audience outside Denmark, Leonard Bernstein, I felt, really jump started that (not taking away the pioneering efforts of Stokowski, Horenstein, Max Rudolf, Martinon, and Morton Gould). Eugene Ormandy played a huge role in this also. Blomstedt came alone and did comprehensive surveys of Nielsen's orchestral music (first with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and then with the San Francisco Symphony) while Ole Schmidt's set with the London Symphony is a milestone in its own right. By the 1980s and onward, there was really no turning back, and now there are no less than ten cycles of the symphonies and with more on the way (Gilbert is doing one with the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Nielsen's birth).   

Great (or Compelling) Nielsen Conductors? Other than Erik Tuxen, Thomas Jensen, and Launy Grøndahl, whose recordings give us glimpses of how Nielsen himself approached his own music, I would also mention:

Bernstein: for this unrelenting energy and non-sentimental approach to Nielsen's rugged symphonic landscape, and yet found much humanity in the writing that's swelling. Take the beautiful second part of the Fifth Symphony's first movement for instance. And special mention must go to Elden C. Bailey, perhaps the most captivating snare drummer on record.

Bryden Thomson: for his straight-faced, unadorned approach to Nielsen, yet give the works the appropriate level of cragginess they require (the Third Symphony, for instance, which is among the best in the market in my opinion). Yet he has something fresh to say, like in the First Symphony for instance. 

Myung-whun Chung, Blomstedt & Jarvi: who share the virtues of Bernstein, but with the dynamism that does not distract from Nielsen power of communication (but enhances it instead). 

Ole Schmidt: his ensemble can be scrappy, but the sheer vitality and intensity of their readings cannot be ignored. 

Douglas Bostock: for his unerring sense of directness and warmth (despite balancing issues in some of the recordings).

Horenstein: Unfortunately he did not do as much Nielsen as I would have like to see, but his efforts are more than noteworthy. His recording of "Saul and David" demonstrates  the level of his sympathy with the score and his understanding of the composer. 

Other glowing recordings:

Zubin Mehta with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Nielsen's Fourth).

Solonen with the Swedish Radio Symphony (Nielsen's Second).

Kubelik with the Danish Radio Symphony (Nielsen's Fifth, a very fresh, insightful reading).

Ormandy with the Philadelphia (Nielsen's Sixth).

Bernstein with the Royal Danish Orchestra (Nielsen's Third).

Ulf Schirmer with Soloists and Danish National Royal Symphonic Orchestra and Choir (Maskarade).

Gennady Rozhdestvensky and the Danish Radio Symphony (Aladdin).

Thomas Dausgaard with the Danish Radio Symphony (Nielsen's overtures). 

 

But enough of my take. Please, what say you? 

David A. Hollingsworth

RE: Great, or compelling Nielsen conductors on Record.

David, after this impressively thorough introductory post, I guess few would have something to add.

Nielsen is not a composer to die for, although I find his Chamber Music (at least his String Quartets and Violin Sonatas quite compelling (at times, even great), particularly in the stunning recordings by Dacapo. So, from my perspective, I could add the following options, mostly from the more recent productions:

- For the whole set of Symphonies: a) Blomstedt with the Danish Radio S.O. (on Emi) is a quite good one, both as a performance and recording (more balanced than passionate, but with such intense music, this might sound more as a compliment).

b) Vanska with BBC Scottish S.O. (on BIS): more intense, more idiomatic, very well recorded.

c) N. Jarvi with Goteborg S.O. (on DG): An underrated but very well performed and recorded version of the Symphonies.

d) Rozhdestvensky with Royal Stockholm P.O. (on Chandos): maybe not the expected one to go for, but it has the fire and blood of these works well portrayed, very convincingly reflected by the recordings.

e) Dausgaard with the Danish National S.O. (on Dacapo): Superb SACD recordings and brilliant modern performances. The conductor seems to lead his Orchestra to the best possible effect.

For the individual recordings of the Symphonies, I could pin-point:

- For No.1, the C. Davis with LSO (on LSO Live, in SACD) and the Blomstedt with San Francisco S.O. (on Decca).

- For No.2, the C. Davis with LSO and Alan Gilbert with NYPO (on Dacapo, in SACD).

- For No.3, the Alan Gilbert with NYPO, Blomstedt with San Francisco S.O. and M. Schonwandt with Danish National S,O. (on Naxos).

- For No.4, C. Davis with LSO and Barbirolli with Halle O. (on BBC legends).

- For No.5, A. Gibson with Scottish N.O. (on Chandos) and Blomstedt with San Francisco S.O.

- For No.6, C. Davis with LSO and Blomstedt with San Francisco S.O.

Parla

RE: Great, or compelling Nielsen conductors on Record.

I attempted to submit this earlier but it wouldn't take, so I'll try again:

I'm surprised that the symphony cycle by the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the American Theodore Kuchar on Brilliant Classics has not been mentioned. It has been reviewed
on MusicWeb International and classicstoday.com. The MusicWeb reviewer found it to be the "ultimate cycle by a convincing margin" (this was a few years ago) and David Hurwitz gave it a 9/9, finding only the orchestra slightly below the best. I have the 3 CD set (92885) and can verify the rave reviews. For the conducting, the engineering, the notes, the price and, yes, the orchestra, this is the set to get even if you have others.

Bliss
RE: Great, or compelling Nielsen conductors on Record.

I'd never heard of that set Bliss but will track down those reviews and may give it a go. I got to know the Nielsen symphonies through the Decca recordings with Blomstedt in San Francisco. They are brilliantly idiomatic performances in superb sound. The symphonies are a fine body of work which I often turn to as a contrast to the longer works of Mahler, Bruckner, Shostakovich, etc.

RE: Great, or compelling Nielsen conductors on Record.

Yes, the Blomstedt are good. I heard him do them at Davies Symphony Hall in S.F. before the recordings were made and then bought them all on cassette (didn't have a CD player then). At that time the acoustics at the Hall were not very good. The orchestra could not hear itself, for one thing, and, depending on where you sat, the sound wasn't much better in the hall. Blomstedt used to say he had the best seat in the house. Anyhow, when the Decca engineers recorded in the hall they had a platform built out into the audience section and the orchestra then recorded sitting above the seats. It made all the difference. Things are much improved now since the remodeling a few years ago.

Bliss
RE: Great, or compelling Nielsen conductors on Record.

A very useful review, Parla, as what I've heard agrees with what you say, so hopefully this will be a handy guide in future.

My first acquaintance with the cycle was Blomstedt/Danish, which at the time I found underwhelming. I went on to buy part of Schmidt and two more sets, Bostock and Kuchar, with diminishing returns. The Kuchar was especially disappointing as I had got a lot out of his Prokofiev cycle. His Nielsen seemed very roughly handled, lacking emotional warmth and interpretive nuance. Perhaps older hands, after so many years of knowing the old recordings, found this bracing. Now I am back where I started, and that old Blomstedt set is not so bad after all, lovely sound and playing, though I could imagine fierier 4ths and 5ths.

'Art doesn't need philosophers. It just needs to communicate from soul to soul.' Alejandro Jodorowsky

RE: Great, or compelling Nielsen conductors on Record.

Bernstein was a fag

RE: Great, or compelling Nielsen conductors on Record.

Sorry in advance but this is a bit of a bugbear of mine...

I've said before that Blomstedt's San Francisco Third commits too many crimes against the score to be viable: http://www.gramophone.co.uk/blog/the-gramophone-blog/re-thinking-nielsen...

His Danish cycle is really uneven - in my mind lots of it lacks flow and impulse (completely the opposite problem to SF). I also think Colin Davis's LSO concert performances lacked so many Nielsen funadmentals: grind, counterpoint, expanse and tension. The live recordings aren't that much better and too much is missing from the score. 

Someone mentioned a Dausgaard cycle earlier but he hasn't recorded one - only the Third on a 2011 DVD. Did you mean Schonwandt? I'd say his is the best complete cycle available now, particularly in the recent Dacapo box issue in which you get the DVDs too, beautifully shot in the old Danish radio hall.

Right now, this is my personal list of preferred options, would love to hear disagreements:

Symphony 1 - Schonwandt/DNSO (Dacapo) as the impulse is there but its got Beethoven cleanliness too

Symphony 2 - Chicago SO/Gould (RCA Red Seal), fundamentally this is the only recording that gets the bass-born 'ruptures' sounding well enough and looks ahead to the internal scraps of the 4th/5th symphonies

Symphony 3 - Schonwandt/DNSO (Dacapo), this has the right pace and the best exploration of Nielsen the 'country boy coming of age' - the waltz break-out is the most obvious representation, and only Schonwandt gets it right. Soloists in the second movement are the best on record as they emerge from within.

Symphony 4 - I haven't decided!

Symphony 5 - Finnish RSO/Saraste (Warner Apex), this is by far the cleanest, clearest performance, revealing the (actually very simple) structure without sacrificing the fight. Most recordings ignore Nielsen's instructions to the snare drummer, who has to improvise as if attempting to stop the world turning. In other words, he has to go nuts. He does here.

Symphony 6 - BBC Scottish SO/Vanska (BIS), because the jokes are pointed not forced, and Vanska plays just like Nielsen, leaving an extra-musical residue (as in, I think, he doesn't LOOK for the nostalgia/meaning in the musical performance).

Someone mentioned the Brilliant set with the Janacek Philharmonic. This is a goodun too - much of it is quite a 'classical' view so the Second and Third symphonies suffer slightly in that respect.

I'd always recommend the Jascha Horenstein performance of the Third from Sheffield, BBC Legends, which reveals so much about why that's the central Nielsen symphony (you also get a fantastic Sibelius 5).

I liked Alan Gilbert's recent Second and Third recordings - good if you can accept the push-and-pull in the Second (perhaps too Mahlerian) and the Third is bright and sound, with so much of the neccesary Nielsenite quirks in place.

I could go on and on, but will spare you!

RE: Great, or compelling Nielsen conductors on Record.

You are right, Andrew. I meant Schonwandt, on Dacapo,  not Dausgaard.                           Parla

 

RE: Great, or compelling Nielsen conductors on Record.

You are right, Andrew. I meant Schonwandt, on Dacapo,  not Dausgaard.                           Parla

 

RE: Great, or compelling Nielsen conductors on Record.

There's a recording of the bo-ring coupling of the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies and Pan & Syrinx (I think) from Rattle and the CBSO. It's OK but nothing special.

I did get sent a 'bootleg' recording (from DR) of Rattle's Fourth Symphony recording with the Royal Danish Orchestra from last year, his Sonning Music Prize concert. Now that's good: you can almost see Rattle gritting his teeth, and the performance has real irreverence and direction...a lot of fight but rhapsody too.

Would be great for him to record some more, would rather it weren't with the BPO though. Now that he'll be a free agent soon, why not with a Danish or Finnish orchestra?

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