WORKS: Symphony No. 4 (Inextinguishable); Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: National SO of Ireland/Adrian Leaper
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550743 DDD
A fine if unfamiliar orchestra, decently drilled and immaculately balanced, tackles Nielsen. It falls short of the mark simply because it lacks the one ingredient which fuels these symphonies: raw vitality. You only need to hear the opening of the Inextinguishable to register that the earth hardly shakes beneath one’s feet. More string power might have helped, but Leaper is surely too respectful of the accuracy a studio recording demands; I’ve heard youth orchestras set about this music with a daring these players never begin to approach.
Many of Leaper’s slower-than-usual tempi lack sustaining intensity: these woodwind are too pallid in the Poco allegretto of the Fourth, and, though the slow movement begins powerfully, tension later ebbs. The Fifth’s great hymn of battle midway through the first movement sounds placid, not combative, and the enthusiastic side-drummer, terrifyingly brilliant in the evocation of gunfire, needs more to fight against – as with the clinching final victories of both symphonies, Leaper shies away from the ultimate firmness. The softer playing is atmospheric, and it’s good to hear all departments held so evenly in play. Bargain-price for decent results may seem like a fair deal, but to settle for less than the burning intensity of Järvi or Bernstein in these tough masterpieces would be false economy. David Nice