Nielsen: Symphony No. 2 (The Four Temperaments); Symphony No. 3 (Sinfonia espansiva)

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Nielsen
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (The Four Temperaments); Symphony No. 3 (Sinfonia espansiva)
PERFORMER: Royal Stockholm PO/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9300 DDD
Here are an orchestra and a conductor with a natural inclination to make Nielsen sound like Brahms; but it could be a great deal worse. At least The Four Temperaments is an interpretation of sorts: with much of its ruggedness tamed, it becomes a single portrait rather than a series of caricatures. Rozhdestvensky seems to gear everything to the hero’s melancholy, which unfolds in finely shaped phrases at the heart of the symphony. The rest sounds either earthbound or forced: no lift or spring to what should be the vigorous choler of the first movement, and a grim, unsuccessful determination to enjoy in the finale’s Allegro sanguineo.

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Rozhdestvensky surely misses the good-natured, natural point, too, of the Sinfonia espansiva’s finale; a difficult theme to judge, but Järvi and Chung have done it successfully with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. The Stockholm players are no match for their west coast counterparts: bass lines and lower colourings have nothing like the same definition, and the woodwind solos are disappointingly under-projected. There are moments when Rozhdestvensky’s wilder imagination engages – not least the waltzing madness of No. 3’s first-movement development, with spirited fairground trumpeting – but too often a hazy euphony is the order of the day. David Nice