NIELSEN Symphonies Nos 1 & 3
Bracing and genial by turns, I guess you might characterise these symphonies as Nielsen’s most companionable. The first and second subjects of the First’s opening movement typify those personality traits, an assertive resilience offset by an embraceable melody that could only have come from this composer’s pen. Sakari Oramo has his Royal Stockholm Philharmonic wind players relax into its almost Baroque-like ornateness, and when the tune ‘turns’ in the violins, it does so with effortless charm.
But it’s the evolution of those tunes, the gamesmanship of Nielsen’s composition, the delicious melodic transformations and tonal shifts, the Beethovenian rigour, that keep the intrigue on high alert – and Oramo so clearly delights in each unexpected revelation, breathing with and through the music with self-evident appreciation of its infectious ebullience. The rolling Andante of the First has such generosity of spirit, the scherzo a rustic gaucheness, and with the finale’s striding open-air quality we seem to be leaving off where the opening movement of the Third will take off.
The revving-up of its energy source at the start portends one hell of a ride and when the the main theme becomes a waltz, and not just any waltz but a whirling carousel of a waltz, the euphoric recapitulation with its descanting horns feels so deliciously inevitable. Oramo’s release of energy at this point gives Leonard Bernstein’s slightly rough and ready but wildly spontaneous recording (with the Royal Danish Orchestra) a run for its money. The ‘Espansiva’ heart of the piece is the second movement Andante pastorale with its lontano vocalise (Anu Komsi and Karl-Magnus Fredriksson), and is a departure in every sense – it’s a rarefied air that Oramo breathes.
With the big Brahmsian tune of the finale, the work and the performance take on a wholehearted inclusiveness, though a general reservation I have about the extremely lively sound of the Stockholm Concert Hall, as captured by the BIS engineers, is amplified in the coda, where the syncopation of the cross-cutting trombones is somewhat indistinct and not nearly as exciting as it might be in the dense and noisy final tutti.