Nielsen: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 6 (Sinfonia semplice)

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LABELS: Dacapo
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 6 (Sinfonia semplice)
PERFORMER: Danish National RSO/Michael Schønwandt
CATALOGUE NO: 8.224169
With this issue, Michael Schønwandt and the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra complete their survey of the Nielsen symphonies in the New Carl Nielsen Edition. This is the most powerful and convincing account of the Sixth to have appeared in recent years, and it benefits from wide-ranging and vividly defined recording. Schønwandt conveys much of its sense of mystery and vision, and the overall structure is impressively held together. In Schønwandt’s hands, the Sixth emerges as one of the greatest of 20th-century symphonies along with Mahler Nine and the late Sibelius symphonies. With the First he is less successful. Of course, we are in a completely different world in which the musical speech is close to Brahms, Dvorák and Svendsen, though every bar is stamped with Nielsen’s own personality. Schønwandt gets cultured and sensitive playing from his orchestra, but while he is meticulously attentive to detail without being intrusive, the first movement needs a shade more pace. He is only fractionally slower than Thomas Jensen, a yardstick in this repertoire, but that fraction matters. With Jensen you are borne along on a vital current and I miss that sense of abandon, and the unimpeded sense of flow. The finale finds him in full vigour and there is no lack of spontaneity. There is a lot to admire, too, in the middle movements but ultimately I would not play this in preference to Jensen (Dutton), Blomstedt (Decca) or Myung-Whun Chung (BIS). However in the Sixth, Schønwandt is second to none. Robert Layton