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