Nielsen

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Nielsen
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 3
PERFORMER: Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
CATALOGUE NO: BIS 2048 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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It’s a joy to find so much intelligent care and attention expended on Nielsen’s First Symphony. When it is recorded at all, you often get the impression that the conductor has pigeonholed it as ‘promising’ and opted to focus on the usually better-known coupling. But the critic who described Nielsen’s First as ‘a child playing with dynamite’ got the lively paradox at the heart of this music just right. And so too does Sakari Oramo. You can feel the exuberance, the intellectual control, and also the sense of danger – the symphony’s ending is exhilaratingly subversive. But there’s also a tender, affectionate streak in this symphony, which Oramo and his orchestra bring out well while resisting the temptation to indulge. I’ve rarely heard the Andante more winningly phrased, but there’s nothing cosmetic about its charm.

The Sinfonia Espansiva (No.3) is also finely controlled and full of character. Herbert Blomstedt (Decca) may have found a degree or two more pantheistic awe in the slow movement, but after that his performance never quite reconquers the heights. Oramo sees the symphony through: the first movement builds steadily to its intoxicating waltz-climax, and the last two movements continue the story convincingly, so that even the finale’s folksy Big Tune seems to arrive at just the right time, reaching a conclusion that carries just the right weight. The recordings too are excellent: richness but not a hint of congestion and plenty of clarity without sacrifice of atmosphere. All in all, a tonic.

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Stephen Johnson