Nielsen Flute and Clarinet Concertos; Wind Quintet

Polished and poised – is that the Nielsen way? Great Quintet, though

Author: 
David Fanning

Nielsen Flute and Clarinet Concertos; Wind Quintet

  • Concerto for Flute and Orchestra
  • Wind Quintet
  • Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra

Nielsen’s two woodwind concertos and the genial quintet that prepared the way for those later, more acerbic works make a natural, though I think unprecedented, coupling on CD; and now that the starry team on this new disc has done it, any successors are going to find it hard to compete. Hard, but not impossible.

These are technically consummate performances – not something to be taken for granted, because the concertos in particular are not pieces even the most complete virtuoso could hope to pick up casually. It is undeniable, too, that a wealth of imagination has gone into the interpretations, not least in the accompaniments. What emerges is so polished and poetic, however, that those used to the sturdier old Danish tradition may feel that almost as much has been lost as gained.

Pahud’s approach is clear enough from his first phrase, moulded with a seductive eloquence that borders on the self-conscious. Yet Nielsen’s own programme-note talked of the “free, fantasising tone”, with the soloist moving “rather searchingly”, and reheard in the context of Pahud’s overall view of the piece, his phrasing is persuasive enough.

If the Clarinet Concerto has rarely sounded as poised or as reflective, that may be largely a function of Sabine Meyer’s impeccable technique. All the same, a little more self-assertiveness would not have done the music any harm, and for anyone who feels that irascibility and harshness is of the essence in this piece, such civilised playing will be no substitute for the tousled unkemptness of Ib Eriksson’s 1954 account.

Orchestral principals do not always make ideal chamber partners. But the Berliners’ account of the much-recorded Quintet is simply wonderful: surpassingly suave, again as one might expect, but also full of grace, wit and fantasy, plus the larger-than-life characterisation in the finale that I missed in the otherwise excellent recent version from the Copenhagen-based Diamant Ensemble.

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