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CD Review

Carl Nielsen

Symphonies #4 & 5

  • Symphony #4 "Inextinguishable"
  • Symphony #5
Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Michael Schønwandt
DaCapo 8.224156 DDD 76m
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'The composer, in using the title, 'The Inextinguishable', has attempted to suggest in a single word what only the music itself has the power to express fully: the elemental will to life' – Carl August Nielsen

The coupling is identical to Adrian Leaper's on Naxos but Michael Schønwandt's new issue of Nielsen symphonies has the outstanding Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the real interpreters of this magnificent repertoire. In the Fourth, Schønwandt follows the path of the legendary Launy Grondahl, indeed his version is arguably the most satisfying of the modern ones now. He compares preferably to Blomstedt (EMI and Decca), Jaarvi (BIS) or the eccentric run throughs of Karajan and Menuhin (Virgin) which are my selected comparisons. Adrian Leaper's performance on Naxos is very creditable also but Schønwandt and his superb orchestra have the measure of this work. The opening statement is furiously bold whilst the introduction of the second subject is profoundly lyrical and the movement develops with candid assurance with just a little lingering here and there. The short Poco allegretto is wonderfully fantastic, you almost can see an idyllic landscape after a storm. Here the woodwinds play with character that is unsurpassed in other versions excepting the pioneering Grondahl and Jensen recordings. In the Poco adagio, Schønwandt is a deeply committed exponent, indeed the build up to the great central climax is exceptionally tense. A Finale of epic tusstle is essential to end this symphony, and the DRSO and conductor do not disappoint, timpani solos are terrifyingly percussive and the great return to the main theme is an example of life giving affirmation. The changes in the new CN edition are largely irrelevant.

The Fifth is no less satisfying in content and interpretation. Schønwandt holds the score together in an extremely coherent way although he tends to get lost in the expansive paths of the opening movement where Jensen and Tuxen have treaded so satisfyingly before. This results in a greater build up of inner tension that makes for a fine transition to the Adagio which is drawn up to over ten minutes. Solo playing is effusive and versatile especially with Niels Thomsen and Tom Nybe's snare drum is also very disturbing indeed. Both climaxes in this adagio are effective with the latter almost sweeping in its exultant vigour. Problems in the Finale are more evident as the movement sometimes hangs fire here and there but is overral a good performance. The youthful exuberance of the orchestra makes for a great experience and is definitely superior to their previous incursion into this work which was only in 1976 with Blomstedt. It is difficult to analyse such a complex work in these lines, although the symphony comes across as challenging, I still prefer Tuxen (1950) and Jensen (1954), the latter's recording is exceptional for its age. This newcomer has one of the best 'Inextinguishable's' on the market and a satisfying Fifth so all lovers of this great composer's unique music should invest without delay. The extensive notes and quotations from Nielsen's own words are an added seal of approval and authority that befits this current issue.

Copyright © 2001, Gerald Fenech