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

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Nielsen
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (The Four Temperaments); Symphony No. 3 (Sinfonia espansiva)
PERFORMER: National SO of Ireland/Adrian Leaper
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550825 DDD
Rozhdestvensky’s hit-and-miss Nielsen cycle finally wins its laurels in the shattering finale of the Fifth. His broad, even pacing elicits fresh awe at Nielsen’s achievement in this most unremittingly tense and athletic of symphonic movements: steely energy wrenched to the surface by Bernstein and Järvi here stays very firmly between the lines. The long-term result is breathtaking. Earlier the Stockholm strings struggle to hold up against the first-movement side drum, ambassador of chaos, and Rozhdestvensky has difficulty making them vocalise their fiendishly difficult part in the life and death struggle that launches the ever-elusive Sixth. Still, his characterising skills have the upper hand in the unhappy ‘Humoreske’ and the lurking anarchy of the final Theme and Variations; the pointers forward to Shostakovich’s Fourth and Fifteenth symphonies are inescapable in the hands of a conductor who understands both composers in extremis.

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There is less to be read into Adrian Leaper’s impeccably prepared Naxos series. The tempi are, for the most part, more natural than I found in the first issue (reviewed October 1994) and combine with mellow orchestral restraint to create stretches of real distinction in the closing pages of the First Symphony’s Andante and the phlegmatic second movement of The Four Temperaments. Indeed, throughout the fledgling First the soft-grained sound is not inappropriate. But the overriding impression remains of a proficient orchestra hardly capable of conveying the essential ruggedness that is the hallmark of mature Nielsen. David Nice