The Frankfurt Radio Symphony perform Nielsen’s symphonies conducted by Paavo Järvi

'There’s a prevailing freshness and briskness which draws on the excellent Frankfurt Radio Symphony’s playing'

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Carl Nielsen
LABELS: RCA
ALBUM TITLE: Nielson
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1-6 (complete)
PERFORMER: Frankfurt Radio Symphony/Paavo Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: RCA 88875178802

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Complete symphonic sets are always harder to judge because they seldom if ever offer uniformly recommendable performances, let alone any consistent overview. Nielsen, though, has been fortunate in his interpreters. Even the 1970s sets which reintroduced him to British audiences, Ole Schmidt’s (now available on Alto) and Herbert Blomstedt’s (on EMI, with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra), remain very powerful contenders; and later ones, not least Osmo Vänskä (on BIS) and Colin Davis (LSO Live), have strong claims.

Paavo Järvi’s new set, though, does have a very coherent feeling to it. There’s a prevailing freshness and briskness which draws on the excellent Frankfurt Radio Symphony’s playing, especially the clean-cut brass, to emphasise Nielsen’s clarity, a contrast to the lush post-Romanticism then fashionable in central Europe.

It’s especially effective in the sturdy First Symphony, Nielsen’s first international success, with its high-spirited C major opening and coda; less so perhaps in the Second, the Four Temperaments, whose detailed character studies repay a more reflective approach. In the Third, the Espansiva, the pace is bright, bracing and fresh-air but despite the atmospheric vocalises it’s perhaps a little short on underlying nature-mysticism.

The flowing, turbulent Fourth, the Inextinguishable, is dynamic and involving, though. And the edgy, difficult Fifth, with its wartime reflections, is more measured and intense, although the famous first-movement percussion intrusion sounds less shattering than some. The Sixth, the so-called Simple Symphony is actually anything but, and Järvi steers deftly through its oddly episodic structure.

The versions I’ve mentioned above might make more recommendable first sets, but Paavo Järvi’s spare, clear-sighted view of Nielsen is refreshing and impressive.

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Michael Scott Rohan