Nielsen: Helios Overture; Saga-drøm; Pan and Syrinx; An Imaginary Journey to the Færoe Islands

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COMPOSERS: Nielsen
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Helios Overture; Saga-drøm; Pan and Syrinx; An Imaginary Journey to the Færoe Islands
PERFORMER: Danish National RSO/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9287 DDD
Nielsen’s shorter orchestral pieces and symphonic poems may not rival those of his contemporary Sibelius in quantity or quality, or indeed his own symphonies, but at their best they provide rewarding listening. Since most Nielsen symphony cycles now manage to cram the six works on to three discs without room for fillers, this new issue fulfils a valuable function in collecting together all his remaining orchestral works (apart from the concertos and the early Little Suite for strings).

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It begins, appropriately, with the magical sunrise opening of the Helios Overture (1903), in which the Danish orchestra projects a hushed sense of awe through the sleekness of its corporate sound (though the strings are balanced a little too backwardly). Other highlights include the symphonic poems Saga-drøm (1908) and Pan and Syrinx (1918), and, best of all, the ‘rhapsodic overture’ An Imaginary Journey to the Færoe Islands (1927).

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All are atmospheric pieces, but Rozhdestvensky tends to go for the atmosphere of the moment at the expense of dramatic continuity and the performances come across as a little too lifeless: in several cases, more gripping accounts are found elsewhere, notably of Pan and Syrinx (Rattle, EMI) and the Imaginary Journey (Salonen, Sony). Matthew Rye