Nielsen: Violin Concerto; Clarinet Concerto; Flute Concerto

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Nielsen
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Clarinet Concerto; Flute Concerto
PERFORMER: Jonathan Carney (violin), Kevin Banks (clarinet), Gareth Davies (flute); Bournemouth SO/Kees Bakels
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554189
If you’re drawn to Nielsen’s symphonies, would like to explore further but don’t know where to start, this could be the perfect opportunity. You won’t find a better collection of the three concertos on one disc. Jonathan Carney may not be quite as superbly polished and subtly persuasive as Cho-Liang Lin in his magnificent Sony recording (coupled, appropriately enough, with the Sibelius Violin Concerto); but it’s obvious he knows the work well and sees it very much whole – more so than Kim Sjøgren on Chandos. At the same time, Carney reveals a flair for Nielsen’s quirky humour – who but Nielsen would have given the first movement a hair-raising concert ending, then rounded off the finale with a brusque ‘That’s all folks!’? If that’s the reason this Concerto has never been as popular as the Sibelius, it probably says as much about the expectations of concert-goers as it does about Nielsen’s genius.

Advertisement

The Flute and Clarinet Concertos are later, more sophisticated pieces. They are also harder to grasp at first hearing. The Flute Concerto finishes with another joke: it’s the bass trombonist who ends up getting the Big Tune, not the delicate, fastidious flute, whose fluttering protestations add to the comedy. But Gareth Davies makes the flute a sympathetic character here, capable of sparkling fun, and even pathos, before his final deflation; ultimately it’s more endearing than the Toke Lund Chistiansen performance on Chandos. The Clarinet Concerto is much thornier, ending in a kind of glacial calm – another striking case of Nielsen refusing to give audiences (and egoistic soloists) the expected show-off ending. Kevin Banks’s interpretation is more inward-looking, less angrily assertive than that of Niels Thomsen (on the same Chandos disc), but I found it every bit as convincing. The only reservation is that the recording could have brought the soloists forward a bit more – especially Kevin Banks. But at budget price it carries a strong recommendation. Stephen Johnson