Nielsen: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2 (The Four Temperaments)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Nielsen
LABELS: Finlandia
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2 (The Four Temperaments)
PERFORMER: Finnish RSO/Jukka-Pekka Saraste
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-85574-2
There is some very good playing here from the Finnish Radio orchestra, and Saraste is generally attentive to detail and free from any kind of interpretative point-making. At the same time this issue makes a less strong impression than his powerful accounts of the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies which I much admired. Tempi are generally well chosen, though some may find Saraste fractionally on the fast side in the third movement of No. 1 and distinctly so in the finale of No. 2. Elsewhere, as in the finale of No. 1, he sets off at exactly the right stride.

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Characterisation is not always ideal: the first movement of The Four Temperaments is coarse rather than choleric and its second theme wanting in nobility, as to my mind is the Andante malincolico. The phlegmatic movement is a bit short on charm. The second idea in the finale is nicely shaped and has the right character but the episode leading to it sounds brash and bandmasterly. Competition in both works is pretty stiff. Apart from Thomas Jensen’s pioneering versions (now available on Dutton and essential listening), there are very persuasive accounts from Myung-Whun Chung and the Gothenburg SO on BIS, eminently reliable and authoritative performances from Blomstedt (Decca) which have better blended sound than this newcomer, and a less well recorded account of No. 2 from Douglas Bostock and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic which really captures its spirit. Robert Layton